Broken Dreams - Dialogue with Michael Cook

By C. Kha

"From what I have said of the Natives of New-Holland they may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans; being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them."
- Excerpt, Captain Cook Journal.

Throughout history, indigenous culture has been seen through the lens of colonial documentation and has been a way of representing and perceiving 'the other'. 

Michael Cook, Civilised #13, 2012.  Inkjet print.  100 x 87cm.  Edition of 8.

Image courtesy of October Gallery. Photography the Artist.  All copyright is the artist's.

Michael Cook revisits these representations in his seductive and enigmatic photographs, which draw the viewer into quiet contemplation on the past.  Through light humour and beauty, Cook is able to present confronting and controversial aspects in Australia's colonial history.   I had an opportunity to meet with Cook whilst he was in London to discuss his art practice and his latest exhibition, ‘Broken ‘Dreams’, currently showing at October Gallery until the 1st December.

'Broken Dreams' series, is a group of 10 images featuring a young Indigenous woman who dreams of London and was exhibited earlier this year at 'UnDisclosed', 2nd National Indigenous Art Triennial.  The series could be interpreted as a form of contemporary Indigenous Dreaming [1].   

There is a strong narrative element in your work, could you tell us more about the ‘Broken Dreams’ series?

MC - ‘Broken Dreams’ is about a girl who sees white people for the first time.  She’s not scared of seeing them and has Dreams about where they come from.  She takes on their materialism: the hair, dress and make-up.  The series crosses over a couple years and as she sees what they do to her people she slowly strips the materialism.  The last shot of her is finding freedom back to her land. 

...I’m asking the question at the end; ‘what happened to her? Did she go back and connect to the land?’  I find I get all sorts of people along to the exhibition.  You might have someone that has studied Aboriginal history or someone who doesn’t know anything about it.  I like to leave the shoots open for people’s perspectives.

Michael Cook, Broken Dreams #2, 2010. Inkjet print.  124 x 100 cm.  Edition of 8.

Image courtesy of October Gallery. Photography the Artist.  All copyright is the artist's.

And what about the rainbow lorikeet?

MC - The reason for the bird is to let everyone know that this is her Dreaming and it’s in Australia. They’re very cheeky little birds with their own personality.  If you get a chance to watch a group of them, you’ll notice they’re all very individual. My parents used to own a bird sanctuary in Hervey Bay and I used to have to feed the rainbow lorikeets every afternoon; it’s a personal touch to the “Broken Dreams” series.

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