In 2009, Cook began to make art photography, driven by an increasingly urgent desire to explore issues of identity. His photographic series are unique in their approach, and evocatively recreate incidents from Australian colonial history uniting the historical with the imaginary, the political with the personal. Visually striking, technically complex and with sensitive invention, they occupy a new space in the Australian artistic imagination.
Cook’s photographic practice is unusual. He constructs his images in a manner more akin to painting than the traditional photographic studio or documentary model. He begins with an idea, regarding the image as his blank canvas. Photographic layering is then used to build the image to provide aesthetic depth. He characteristically works in photographic series that explore narratives within a central idea. Unfolding tableaux offer enigmatic stories that are not prescribed but left open to audience interpretation. While much of the early work was based on Australian narratives, set in outback or beach environments, new series’, such as Object (2015), speak to a European cultural heritage and a universal experience of dispossession and displacement.
Cook was adopted; brought up in a family who were heavily involved in supporting Indigenous rights in Queensland, Australia. The circumstances of his birth were shared with him from his earliest years. His biological mother became pregnant, aged only sixteen, to an Aboriginal man. Her residence in a small country town in Australia in the conservative late 1960s meant that offering him for adoption was almost mandatory.
An exploration of issues that surround identity is a central part of his approach to creating artwork, but the stories he develops have an equally universal application to humanity. He suggests, “I create artwork about Indigenous issues, past and present, about how the past relates to the present and, eventually, moulds the future. I’m not sure whether I really need to belong anywhere. Put simply, I’m a person of mixed ancestry–some of which is Indigenous. I look at the big picture, I am Australian, I tell my stories to Australians of all races and also to those beyond our shores. I am a part of the human race.”
Cook’s art career has been on a steady upward trajectory since his first art series, Through My Eyes
Cook’s 2016 series Mother will be launched at Art Basel Hong Kong. It traces a personal direction with a poignantly powerful emotional resonance that speaks to the universal image and importance of the matriarch in contemporary and traditional cultures alike. Also in 2016, Cook’s work will be part of an exhibition curated by the Musées de la Civilisation in Québec, Canada, titled Lifelines: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Australia.