Griffith alumnus Ryan Presley’s radical reimagining of Australia’s currency has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Aboriginal charities and community groups.

Art with a conscience

Ryan Presley with the Blood Money Exchange

The Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art graduate has created an installation, Blood Money, comprised of custom-designed currency that celebrates Aboriginal activists, artists and icons.

The participatory installation has featured at several recent exhibitions, including the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Tarnanthi Festival, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Melbourne Art Week.

A Blood Money Exchange Terminal allows viewers to exchange Australian dollars for limited-edition $10, $20, $50 and $100 Blood Money Dollar dollar prints.

Ryan donates all proceeds from the currency exchange booth to local charities working with young Aboriginal people.

“It’s been more successful than I could have imagined – the work has had such a positive response,” he said.

Hidden figures

Blood Money on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia

The artist began the Blood Money series in 2009 while he was studying at Griffith, and his paintings have continued to evolve in size and detail.

The Blood Money works currently on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia are more than a metre wide and feature Aboriginal leaders including southeast Queensland warrior Dundalli, land rights activist Vincent Lingiari and Fanny Cochrane Smith, who made the only recordings of Tasmanian Aboriginal song and language.

“Growing up I never heard about many of these historical Aboriginal figures in school, and I was fascinated by the stories I’d hear from my family, so I wanted to celebrate these people that have been written out of history,” he said.

“I’ve always had an interest in creating work that addresses social issues and offers political commentary.

Ryan Presley’s portrait of Oodgeroo Noonuccal

“Having the opportunity to express those stories through art is sometimes the only platform for people’s voices to be heard.”

Ryan spent time in the Reserve Bank of Australia museum and archives to create the highly detailed bank notes. In the ultimate compliment, the RBA Museum in Sydney recently purchased a complete set of works from the Blood Money series.

‘Uni was a time to experiment and try new things’

The Alice Springs-born and Brisbane-based Marri Ngarr artist graduated from the Queensland College of Art Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art (CAIA) program and completed his Doctor of Visual Arts at the QCAin 2016.

“It was great to have that time at uni to experiment and try new things – I learned about lino cuts and printmaking and started working with watercolours,” he said.

“CAIA also gave me a chance to explore my family history.”

Ryan Presley’s Blood Money installation is showing at the Art Gallery of South Australia until 27 January.