Australia's Aborigines have a rich and varied culture, and perhaps the best example of this amazing culture is the art that has been produced over the course of thousands of years. Art has been commonly used in Indigenous culture to relay important cultural stories, such as those from the Dreamtime, which is why art was such an important and common occurrence. This isn’t even taking into consideration the fact that different tribes were responsible for creating highly diverse forms of art, which is why Aboriginal art is such an interesting subject to explore. In this article we take a look at what Aboriginal art is all about to give you a better idea of how it historically evolved.
The history of Aboriginal art
Those looking to buy Australian art might be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of styles and mediums out there – so where should you start? Let’s take a look at it from the beginning: the first Aboriginal art involved paints applied to rocks, with examples found dating back 28,000 years ago. Art styles developed from here as different tribes found new and unique ways to express their beliefs and cultural laws, making mediums quite dissimilar depending on where in Australia the tribes existed. Perhaps the best known example of an Indigenous art style is dot painting, a style that was developed as a response to white settlers. Dots were used to mask the meanings of the paintings, as they could not be easily interpreted by white settlers in this form. Hiding the meanings was necessary as sacred cultural practices are not intended to be shared, and must only be understood by those who they are relevant to. Cross hatching is another popular style, and one that was traditionally created using human hair. This style is demonstrated through hair creating structured lines that overlap to create a crossing effect.
Symbolism in Indigenous art
Unlike much art in Western culture that is purely aesthetic, Indigenous art is mostly centred on the use of symbolism to demonstrate stories, regardless of the type of style used. Depending on the tribe, different symbols often took on different meanings, which is why unique symbols are used depending on where in the country the tribe was located. Even with this being the case, there are a few symbols that are commonly used across Indigenous tribes. For example, symbols that resemble spears and boomerangs are usually recognisable, but it is usually symbols related to humans that can cause confusion in people unfamiliar with Aboriginal art (as humans are often depicted as a U-shape, which translates to someone sitting in the sand). Colours are also an important part of art and story – as with many other forms of art, blue tones are used to demonstrate bodies of water, while red and orange tones to represent the earth, but there are also other ways colours are implemented that differ between tribes.
Modern Indigenous art
It is unfortunate that until 2006, Aboriginal artists were commonly exploited – artworks were commonly sold without any profit going to the artist themselves, but this quickly changed with introduction of the Indigenous Art Code in 2007. This code, established by the Australian Government, forbade the purchase of art with food or alcohol and helped Aboriginal artists to better understand their rights. If you purchase Aboriginal art through official means, you can now thankfully ensure that profits are directed to the artist.