Michael Riley Portraits 1984-1990 is the first exhibition of Michael Riley's work at The Commercial Gallery, presented in association with the Michael Riley Foundation. The exhibition consists of estate prints of Riley’s important early black and white portraits. These photographs are significant not only in the context of Riley’s career but also in terms of Australian history.
Riley was a prominent member of an extraordinary generation, a generation of talented, often tertiary-educated artists/activists whose pursuit of their chosen profession (art, literature, dance, acting, law, politics, cultural administration and academia) changed history through the advent of strong, positive voices speaking for themselves on their own terms in response to the prejudice of non-Indigenous Australia. These individuals, Riley’s family, friends and peers, are the subjects of his portraits.
The exhibition brings together a selection of works from three important historical exhibitions: Koori Art ’84, a seminal exhibition of urban Aboriginal art held at Artspace, Sydney (1984); NADOC ’86: Aboriginal and Islander Photographers, the first ever exhibition by Indigenous photographers (curated collaboratively by Ace Bourke and Tracey Moffatt) at the Aboriginal Artists Gallery, Sydney (1986); and Portraits by a Window, Riley’s first solo exhibition, held at Hogarth Galleries, Sydney (1990). Riley’s portraits are a pantheon of Aboriginal Australia at a moment when history was being changed.