Dreaming of Aborginal Art

ArtI adore Aboriginal artwork – the intricate designs, modern aesthetic, and sheer beauty mesmerize me. While in Australia I’ve been regularly wandering into art galleries just to gawk. Since I’m enamored I decided to find out a bit more and this is what I dug up…

Cultural Totems

Traditionally indigenous Australians followed an animist belief system which they call The Dreamtime or The Dreaming. Considered the oldest living culture on earth, The Dreaming governs the community, including all structures for social behavior. It also protects and celebrates the sacredness of the earth.

In Australian Aboriginal mythology, totemic spirits created and inhabited the dream world – spirits like the kangaroo, crocodile, turtle – and each person is imbued with one of the animist spirits. The spirit acts as a type of custodian for the person in the natural world.

art 3Dreaming stories are particularly important since the Aborigines didn’t have a written language, but traditionally passed down their history and knowledge through spoken word, songs and dance. Physical artwork in the form of paintings, carvings, and ceramics also played an instrumental role in conveying culture’s history and belief system.

Painting the Natural World

There are several types of paintings that convey the Dreaming:

Themes: Aboriginal art mainly depicts nature, including animals, lakes, fields, all of these symbolic of the Dreamtime. Paintings can also convey activities such as migration movements, community gatherings, and hunting.

Colors: Painting often use colors found in nature: yellow (the sun), brown (the soil), red (desert sand) and white (the clouds and the sky). The colors were mined from ochre pits, usually only by specific men within a clan.

Symbols: Dots, circles, lines are all used to provide a stylistic rendering of the natural environments. Some of my favorite are intricate dot paintings that provide multiple perspectives.

art 4Canvases: Historically paintings adorn natural surfaces such as bark, rocks, and caves. Some rock art is thought to be more than 40,000 years old. Paint is also used to adorn the body. Today, much of the art by Aboriginal peoples is depicted on canvas, as well as a new movement in digital media.

Spiritual Expression

For Australian Aborigines all art is spiritual and core to their culture. As Wenten Rubuntja, an Aboriginal landscape artist, says “Doesn’t matter what sort of painting we do in this country, it still belongs to the people, all the people. This is worship, work, culture. It’s all Dreaming…”

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 16th, 2014 and is filed under Asia Pacific.

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