Michael is recognised as the foremost Indigenous artist in Queensland to revive a unique tradition of making artefacts such as Big-uun (shields) that were once used as weapons by the Yidinji people and Nalan Gugal (Firemakers). He was the first Yidinji man to reinvigorate shield making when he produced two shields for a contemporary Yidinji dance group in Ravenshoe in 1989 (two of which are still displayed at the Nganyaji Interpretive Centre in Ravenshoe).
His language name, Boiyool, has two meanings: it is the word for a piece of lawyer cane cut specifically to stir a non-lethal quantity of poison into waterholes when hunting fish, and the name of a mythical being, half-human and half-eel, which travelled up the rivers and visited significant sites in the Dreaming. He first exhibited shields in the ‘Made with Meaning’ exhibition in 1995 at Cairns Regional Gallery, which were later acquired by Jeannie Adams for the ‘Yalba Binbi’ collection in Cairns (now held with Shalom Christian College, Townsville).
In 1998, he proudly became the first Indigenous Queensland artist to win the ‘Wandjuk Marika Memorial Award’ for sculpture at the ‘National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards’ with his work ‘Dulgubarra, Rainforest Dwellers’. That work was selected for MAGNT’s 20th anniversary national touring exhibition ‘Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award: Celebrating 20 Years’ in 2004 – 2005.
Following his lead, only other Yidinji artists, Paul Bong and Napoleon Oui later made shields on occasion and they have since both turned to printmaking to present an interpretation of shield designs.Michael’s works were also featured in the ‘Gatherings’ and ‘Gatherings II: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art of Queensland Australia’ in 2001 and 2006 respectively. The Queensland Art Gallery (now QAGoMA) purchased 15 of Michael’s shields from 2000 to 2004, and he was a featured artist in the landmark touring exhibition ‘Story Place: Indigenous Art from Cape York and the Rainforest’ 2003-2005. In 2003 Michael created a unique folded bark canoe titled ‘Waray Banjaar – Follow the River’ specifically for the 2004 exhibition ‘Temperature: Contemporary Queensland Sculpture’ at the Museum of Brisbane.
His works are also held in private and public collections including the Cairns Regional Gallery, Cairns Convention Centre and the Queensland Museum. In 2011 three of his shields were exhibited at the ‘Cairns Indigenous Art Fair’ and purchased by the Queensland Museum. More recently he exhibited shields and firemakers in ‘Gijar gunda big-uun’ at Canopy Art Space (Cairns) and Onespace Gallery (Brisbane) in 2017. ‘Gijar gunda big-uun’ translates as marks painted in a pattern on a shield and therefore appropriate to the new body of works informed by traditional designs.
Michael Boiyool Anning, Big-unn - Dugubil (Bark Containers Design) Photo Mick Richards
Michael Boiyool Anning, Big-unn - Bookul (Shield - Lawyer Cane Leaf Design). Photo Mick Richards
Michael Boiyool Anning, Big-unn - Wanggulay (White Cockatoo Design). Photo Mick Richards
Michael Boiyool Anning, Big-unn Gidilagay (Child's Shield). Photo: Mick Richards
Michael Boiyool Anning, Nalan (board) with Gugal (sticks), Photo Mick Richards