Portraits by a window 1990

I was interested in representing Aboriginal people in a different light, in a different way to the negative images in the paper and media. I’d decided to do an exhibition of portraits called Portraits by a window of young urban Aboriginal people in the ’80s who were doing their own thing, mixing into society, trying to, I suppose, break the stereotype of what Aboriginal people are. It’s a collection of portraits of young Aboriginal people who where striving to do things in their own fields differently. I suppose you could call them ‘movers and shakers’ – people who get out and do things, want to change things, change themselves, want to move on, sort of break away from the stereotype. MR

Shot in classic black and white, Portraits by a window evolved organically over a number of years with sitters like artist and curator Avril Quaill posing for multiple portraits. The series captures Michael Riley’s contemporaries – his friends and colleagues and their families. Like the later portrait series A common place: Portraits of Moree Murries 1990 and Yarns from the Talbragar Reserve 1998, which document Riley’s mother’s and father’s communities of Moree and Dubbo respectively, Portraits by a window is marked by Riley’s familiarity with his subjects and the ease of representation he instills in them. Shot at Boomalli Aboriginal Artist Co-operative in Chippendale, Sydney, an organisation Riley co-founded in 1987, this series was his first major body of work. Today, Portraits by a window is iconic and continues its impact within Australian art. It is held in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

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