About Australian Indigenous Art

About Australian Indigenous Art


A Visual Language of Stories and Symbols


Indigenous Aboriginal Art is one of the oldest and most diverse forms of artistic expression in the world.
It encompasses a rich variety of styles, techniques, and themes that reflect the culture, beliefs, and experiences of the Indigenous peoples of Australia.

But more than just a form of art, Indigenous Aboriginal Art is also a way of storytelling, a visual language that preserves and transmits the stories of the past, the present, and the future.

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by FATE SAVARI (ISAWDI) of Omie Artists. The title is Misa’eje clan story of the brother and sister discovering the Kunnoo’ino tree (Mwe, jaji’e sor’e, dubidubi hané, marové ohu’o marové hané) - Misa’eje clan story of the brother and sister discovering the Kunnoo’ino tree (with the brother’s garden, tattoo designs on the brother’s body, orchid leaves, fig tree and leaves of the fig tree). [14-129] (Natural Pigments on Nioge (Woman’s Barkcloth Skirt))

FATE SAVARI (ISAWDI)

Misa’eje clan story of the brother and sister discoveri…

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by LISA UHL of Mangkaja Artists. The title is Kurrkapi. [170/17] (Acrylic Paint on 3mm Poly-Carbonate)

LISA UHL (dec)

Kurrkapi

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by SARAH UGIBARI of Omie Artists. The title is Mododa’e diburi’e biojë’oho (sihoti’e taliobamë’e) - The Tail-Feathers of the Swift When Sitting in the Tree. [OM10-066] (Mud, Nioge (Barkcloth))

SARAH UGIBARI

Mododa’e diburi’e biojë’oho (sihoti’e taliobamë’e) - Th…

The Stories of the Dreamtime


One of the most important and distinctive aspects of Indigenous Aboriginal Art is its connection to the Dreamtime, the creation period when ancestral beings shaped the land and the life forms. The Dreamtime stories are the foundation of Aboriginal culture, religion, and identity, as they explain the origin and meaning of everything in the world. The Dreamtime stories are also the source of Aboriginal law, morality, and ritual, as they provide the rules and guidelines for living in harmony with the land and the spirit.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is a way of telling and illustrating the Dreamtime stories, using symbols, icons, and dots to represent the characters, events, and places of the stories. For example, a circle can represent a campsite, a waterhole, or a sacred site, depending on the context and the story. A U-shape can represent a person sitting down, while a line can represent a spear or a boomerang. Dots can represent stars, sand, or seeds, among other things.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is not only a way of depicting the Dreamtime stories, but also a way of accessing and interacting with them. By painting, carving, or singing the stories, Indigenous Aboriginal Artists and storytellers enter a state of connection and communication with the ancestral beings and the spirit world. The stories are not fixed or static, but rather dynamic and evolving, as they are influenced by the artist's personal experience, interpretation, and inspiration.

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NYUJU STUMPY BROWN of Mangkaja Artists. The title is Jumu. [wp230/96] (Atelier Artist Acrylic, 250gsm Velin Arches Paper)

NYUJU STUMPY BROWN (dec)

Jumu

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by GINGER WIKILYIRI of Tjungu Palya Artists. The title is Kunamata. [11351] (Synthetic Polymer on Linen)

GINGER WIKILYIRI

Kunamata

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by PAJI WAJINA HONEYCHILD YANKARR of Mangkaja Artists. The title is Thuori. [pc121/04] (Atelier Artist Acrylic on 11oz Cotton Duck)

PAJI WAJINA HONEYCHILD YANKARR

Thuori

The Stories of the Land


Another important and unique aspect of Indigenous Aboriginal Art is its relation to the land, the animals, the seasons, and the events that are part of the Aboriginal way of life. The land is not only the physical environment, but also the spiritual and cultural home of the Aboriginal people, as it contains the traces and the essence of the Dreamtime ancestors. The land is also the source of sustenance, knowledge, and identity for the Aboriginal people, as it provides them with food, water, shelter, medicine, and art materials.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is a way of telling and showing the stories of the land, using colours, patterns, and shapes to represent the features and the changes of the land. For example, ochres, a natural clay pigment, are used to paint the colours of the earth, such as red, yellow, white, and black. Ochres have different meanings and associations, such as blood, life, earth, bones, death, and spirit. Lines, curves, and dots are used to create patterns and textures that evoke the movement and the rhythm of the land, such as waves, sand dunes, or wind.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is not only a way of describing the land, but also a way of mapping and navigating it. By painting, drawing, or weaving the land, Indigenous Aboriginal Artists and storytellers create a visual and spatial memory of the land, which helps them to locate and identify the places and the resources that are important for their survival and well-being. The land is not a flat or a static surface, but rather a complex and a dynamic system, which requires a holistic and a multidimensional understanding.

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by MATTHEW WEST TJUPURRULA of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Winpulpula. [MW1102045] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

MATTHEW WEST TJUPURRULA

Winpulpula

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by FRANK WARD TJUPURRULA of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Walipintili. [FW0609200] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

FRANK WARD TJUPURRULA

Walipintili

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NYUNGAWARRA WARD of Warakurna Artists. The title is Yankuntjuntju. [320-22] (Acrylic on Linen)

NYUNGAWARRA WARD

Yankuntjuntju

The Stories of the People


A third and equally significant aspect of Indigenous Aboriginal Art is its expression of the stories of the people, the events, and the issues that are relevant and meaningful for the Aboriginal communities and individuals. The people are not only the descendants of the Dreamtime ancestors, but also the custodians and the creators of the culture, the history, and the identity of the Aboriginal people. The people are also the witnesses and the actors of the changes and the challenges that have occurred and continue to occur in Australia and the world.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is a way of telling and sharing the stories of the people, using images, words, and gestures to represent the experiences and the emotions of the people. For example, portraits, photographs, and sculptures are used to depict the faces and the bodies of the people, as well as their personalities and their roles. Texts, signs, and symbols are used to convey the messages and the meanings of the people, as well as their opinions and their voices. Performances, dances, and ceremonies are used to demonstrate the actions and the expressions of the people, as well as their skills and their talents.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is not only a way of narrating the stories of the people, but also a way of influencing and transforming them. By painting, writing, or performing the stories, Indigenous Aboriginal Artists and storytellers create a social and a political impact, which can affect the awareness and the attitude of the audience and the society. The stories are not only informative or entertaining, but also empowering and inspiring, as they can challenge the stereotypes and the injustices, and reclaim the rights and the recognition of the Aboriginal people.

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by MAY MOODOONUTHI of Mornington Island Artists. The title is Rocks. [1914-L-MM-0207] (Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen)

MAY MOODOONUTHI (dec)

Rocks

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by JOHNNY YUNGUT TJUPURRULA of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Tingari Ceremonies at Wilkinkarra. [JY1303010] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

JOHNNY YUNGUT TJUPURRULA (dec)

Tingari Ceremonies at Wilkinkarra

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by DELORES TIPUAMANTUMIRRI of Munupi Artists. The title is Pwoja Jilamara. [16-618] (Ochre on Linen)

DELORES TIPUAMANTUMIRRI

Pwoja Jilamara

The Origins and Evolution of Indigenous Aboriginal Art


Indigenous Aboriginal Art dates back to at least 60,000 years ago, when the first humans arrived in Australia from Africa and Asia.
The earliest evidence of Indigenous Aboriginal Art is found in rock paintings and engravings, which depict animals, humans, landscapes, and ancestral beings.
These artworks were not only decorative, but also served as a way of communicating stories, laws, and rituals.
Ochres, a natural clay pigment, were the main medium used for painting on rocks, bark, and body.
Ochres come in various colours, such as red, yellow, white, and black, and have different meanings and associations.
For example, red ochre symbolizes blood, life, and earth, while white ochre represents bones, death, and spirit¹.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is not a single, homogeneous style, but rather a diverse and dynamic range of artistic traditions that vary according to region, language, and clan.
Some of the most well-known styles of Indigenous Aboriginal Art include:

  • X-ray art: This style originated in Arnhem Land, in northern Australia, and involves painting the internal organs and bones of animals and humans, as well as their external features. X-ray art is believed to show the life force and essence of the subjects, as well as their connection to the land and the spirit world.

  • Dot painting: This style emerged in the 1970s, when a group of Indigenous Aboriginal Artists from Papunya, in central Australia, began to paint their stories and symbols on canvas and board, using acrylic paints and wooden sticks. Dot painting is a way of concealing sacred and secret information from outsiders, while still expressing the meaning and significance of the stories. Dot painting is also a way of creating optical effects and patterns that evoke the texture and movement of the land.

  • Contemporary art: This style encompasses a wide range of artworks that are influenced by both traditional and modern forms of art, such as photography, sculpture, installation, and performance. Contemporary Indigenous Aboriginal Artists use various materials and media to express their views and experiences of contemporary issues, such as identity, politics, history, and culture. Contemporary Indigenous Aboriginal Art is also a way of challenging stereotypes and reclaiming Indigenous voices and rights.

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by BETSY NAPANGARDI LEWIS of Warlukurlangu Artists (Yuendumu). The title is Mina Mina Jukurrpa (Mina Mina Dreaming) - Karlangu. [1962/06] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

BETSY NAPANGARDI LEWIS

Mina Mina Jukurrpa (Mina Mina Dreaming) - Karlangu

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NINGURA NAPURRULA of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Wirrulnga. [NN1007092] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

NINGURA NAPURRULA (dec)

Wirrulnga

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NOLA YURNANGURNU CAMPBELL of Warakurna Artists. The title is All of Patjarr. [273-19] (Acrylic on Canvas)

NOLA YURNANGURNU CAMPBELL

All of Patjarr

A Visual Language of Stories and Symbols


Indigenous Aboriginal Art is a remarkable and unique form of artistic expression that has survived and thrived for thousands of years, despite the challenges and changes that have occurred in Australia and the world.

But more than just a form of art, Indigenous Aboriginal Art is also a way of storytelling, a visual language that preserves and transmits the stories of the past, the present, and the future. Indigenous Aboriginal Art tells the stories of the Dreamtime, the land, and the people, using symbols, icons, and dots to represent the meaning and the significance of the stories.

Indigenous Aboriginal Art is a way of connecting and communicating with the ancestral beings, the spirit world, the land, and the people, and creating a culture, a history, and an identity that is rich and diverse, ancient and modern, and above all, alive and vibrant.

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