Michael Riley’s Bible and the Touch of the Text (with reference to the Gospel of Luke)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Australian Indigenous photographer and filmmaker Michael Riley, a Wiradjuri
and Kamilaroi man, died at the height of his artistic career in 2004 at the age
of forty- four. Among many things, Riley explored the colonial impact of
Christianity with reference to the Bible as a material artefact of colonization.
Colonial contact in Australia is a complex, oft en violent ‘touch’, where colonial
violence and ecological destruction intersect. Riley’s series Sacrifice (1992)
draws on Christian imagery to comment on the cultural impact of Christianity
on Indigenous peoples in Australia, but without explicit reference to the Bible.
Th e Bible appears in his fly blown (1998) and cloud (2000/ 2005) series expressly
in relation to the land and ecological impacts of colonization. With reference
to Riley’s images of the Bible, this chapter explores the theme of touch in the
Gospel of Luke in conversation with the ongoing event of colonial contact in
Australia. I argue that a pattern of compassionate touch can be read in the
Gospel of Luke unsettling patterns of violent relatedness. But in the dual context of colonization and ecological destruction in Australia, the materiality of
the text intersects with my interpretation in multiple and complex ways, such
that my potentially counter- colonial reading of the text is not free from the
impacts (for good or ill) of the text as a material artefact of colonization. Riley’s
imagery suggests that the tragic ambiguity of the Bible as a cultural artefact of
the colonizers may open to hope through kinds of Indigenous resistance to,
and enculturations of, the Bible. 1
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Bible and Art, Perspectives from Oceania
EditorsCarolyn Blyth, Nasili Vaka'uta
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
PublisherT&T Clark (International)
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780567673305
ISBN (Print)9780567673299, 9780567683854
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Michael Riley
  • Bible
  • Gospel of Luke
  • touch
  • Jean Luc Nancy
  • Jacques Derrida
  • colonisation

Cite this