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 AMANDA PENROSE HART of Miscellaneous Artists. The title is Champagne Bay III. [APH201706039] (Oil on Canvas)

AMANDA PENROSE HART

Champagne Bay III

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NYUJU STUMPY BROWN of Mangkaja Artists. The title is Warla. [pc571/06] (Atelier Acrylic Paint on 14oz Canvas)

NYUJU STUMPY BROWN (dec)

Warla

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by PATRICK MUNG MUNG of Warmun Artists. The title is Purnululu Country (Bungle Bungles). [WAC051/98] (Natural Ochre and Pigments on Canvas)

PATRICK MUNG MUNG

Purnululu Country (Bungle Bungles)

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 NYURAPAYIA NAMPITJINPA of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Rockhole Site - Yumarra. [NN0602008] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

NYURAPAYIA NAMPITJINPA

Rockhole Site - Yumarra

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by DOROTHY NAPANGARDI of Warlukurlangu Artists (Yuendumu). The title is Mina Mina Jukurrpa (Mina Mina Dreaming) - Ngalyipi. [886/09] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

DOROTHY NAPANGARDI

Mina Mina Jukurrpa (Mina Mina Dreaming) - Ngalyipi

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by LISA UHL of Mangkaja Artists. The title is Kurrkapi. [174/17] (Acrylic Paint on 3mm Poly-Carbonate)

LISA UHL (dec)

Kurrkapi

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 LUCY YUKENBARRI of Warlayirti Artists (Balgo). The title is Puturr, near the Stanshore Ranges, W.A.. [681/92] (Acrylic on Canvas)

LUCY YUKENBARRI

Puturr, near the Stanshore Ranges, W.A.

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NANCY NYANYARNA JACKSON of Warakurna Artists. The title is Kiritji. [117-23] (Acrylic on Linen)

NANCY NYANYARNA JACKSON

Kiritji

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NYILYARI TJAPANGATI of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Wilkinkarra. [NT1004101] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

NYILYARI TJAPANGATI

Wilkinkarra

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 EVA NARGOODAH of Mangkaja Artists. The title is Winter Rain (Kuluwa). [71/13] (Atelier Acrylic Paint on 14oz Canvas)

EVA NARGOODAH

Winter Rain (Kuluwa)

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by NAOMI HOBSON of Miscellaneous Artists. The title is Blue Moon Rain. [NH202108002] (Acrylic on Linen)

NAOMI HOBSON

Blue Moon Rain

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by JOHNNY YUNGUT TJUPURRULA of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Tingari Site of Wilkinkarra. [JY0408252] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

JOHNNY YUNGUT TJUPURRULA (dec)

Tingari Site of Wilkinkarra

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 RONNIE TJAMPITJINPA of Papunya Tula Artists. The title is Tarkul. [RT960374] (Acrylic on Belgian Linen)

RONNIE TJAMPITJINPA

Tarkul

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by ERNEST BENNETT of Warakurna Artists. The title is Bronze Miru. [636-08] (Cast Bronze)

ERNEST BENNETT

Bronze Miru

Australian Indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) artwork by SARAH UGIBARI of Omie Artists. The title is Maijaro i’e hö’oje – Morning rays of the sun shining down on the forest. [15-032] (Appliquéd Mud-Dyed Nioge (Barkcloth))

SARAH UGIBARI

Maijaro i’e hö’oje – Morning rays of the sun shining do…

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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