Anthropology: The Aboriginal Art of Australia (Oldest Tradition of Art in the World)

The ancient heritage of art belongs to the Aboriginal culture of Australia. More than 80,000 years define the oldest art tradition in the world. This was the time of the Aborigines’ first settlement in Australia.

The wide panorama of expressions includes painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving, sculpting and sand painting. Rock painting identifies the earliest testimony of artworks as such. Orches were the primary material, like the natural clay earth pigment.

Symbols were the first signs of expressions which showed a substitution for written language. Story telling became a way to convey knowledge to the next generations.

Stone Art: The First Sign of Indigenous Art

Rock art appears as the first sign of indigenous art covering painting, engraving and carving. It’s believed that the oldest rock art appeared around 40 000 years ago in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The oldest artwork officially recognized dates back to 28 000 years ago. It’s a charcoal drawing found in southwestern Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory of Australia. Many caves in Australia hold similar paintings depicting kangaroos, dingoes, turtles.

The ancient Aboriginal art at the stones in Quinkan Country, Queensland
The ancient Aboriginal art at the stones in Quinkan Country, Queensland- Credit:

The most common method of rock carving was cutting it into sandstones and using pegged holes to outline the images. An island Murujuga, in the western part of Australia contains the most famous examples of rock art. To be precise, Murujuga hides petroglyphs or images engraved in the rock surface.

Hand-stenciling: The Framed Handprints

Stencil art was common in many caves in coastal Australia. It’s made by handprints that create a dot art painting. Hand stencils are the earliest symbols of Aboriginal rock art. Framing handprints in the circle expressed the individuality of each person, it was a signature of the individual. Many layers describe these paintings on the wall surface.

Hand stenciling at the stones of West Kimberley
Hand stenciling at the stones of West Kimberley- Credit:

Mixing the orche with the water is the start, then this mixture gets into the mouth. From the mouth it gets on the wall over the hand. The importance of the person is measured by the height of the stencil.

These caves hide in almost all of Australia, nowadays as protected areas. Refreshing some of the stencil paintings is usually in the hands of Community Elders that take care of the sites.

Wood Carvings

Wood carving describes the Aboriginal culture in its essence. Carving the woods had many reasons behind like hunting or gathering the food, building shelters or just for ceremonies.

Patterns were created on the wood by the wire and fire. Wood carvings usually depicted animals and were traded to Europeans for goods. Keeping the customs alive, including the Dreaming stories, was the main reason for wood carvings.

Coolamons, traditional vessel used to carry fruits, water, nuts
Coolamons, traditional vessel used to carry fruits, water, nuts- Credit:

The most fantastic example of wood carving is the popular didgeridoo along with the clapsticks or singing sticks.

Erlikilyika (1865 – 1930) was the first Central Australian artist nationally recognized for his talent and authentic Aboriginal design. His carvings of animals shine throughout his artwork.

Colamoon in the shape of vessels was a dish to carry native fruits, water or nuts. Heating and cooking are their common purpose. Soft wood was a preferable material for colamoons, covering beautiful designs.

The Modern Styles of Aboriginal Art

The contemporary shine of Aboriginal art takes its roots in 1971 thanks to the art teacher Geoffrey Bardon. He created the largest centre of Aboriginal art in Papunya Tulla with more than 60 cooperatives. Their income gains success in the panorama of stunning paintings.

Dot painting crowns the different styles between cross-hatching and Bush Medicine Dreaming. Cross-hatching uses acrylic painting and a set of parallel lines. The most common images depict sea creatures, reptiles and other animals. Bush Medicine Dreaming resembles the popular plant, whose leaves have exceptional, medicinal purposes. Gloria Peryyare left distinctive traces into popularizing this style.

Dot Painting

Dot painting existed thousands of years ago but the official concept appeared in 1971. Dots in the sand or images of animals and lakes on rocks and caves were their early moments. Traditional Aboriginal colours like yellow, brown, red and white were the exquisite representatives.

The fascinating Aboriginal dot painting
The fascinating Aboriginal dot painting- Credit:

Here the technique defines the style- dot marks on the canvas are created by repeated imprints of a brush. Both Ochre paintings and Acrylic enlighten the Aboriginal paintings, though Acrylic prevails.

Telling stories of the tribe were the main reason for the dot painting is but deep concern floats about revealing the secrets. Patience merges into the fascinating artwork of dots which capture your emotions.

Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty symbolizes the modern expression of fine dot painting, awarded several times. Optical illusions are characteristics of some artists, such as Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri.

Bamboo satay sticks and ink bottles are main instruments to create detailed art.

Papunya Tula and Dot Paintings

Papunya Tula is an artistic company that pulls the roots in 1971. These Aboriginal people from Papunya near Alice Springs were traditionally creating dots in the sand.

The secret ceremonies are rooted deeply into the creation of dots. That’s why much criticism involves their appearance in the public life.

The Papunya collection holds more than 200 paintings in the National Museum of Australia.

Symbols: The Way to Transmit Stories and Heritage

Transmitting cultural heritage through symbols was the main mode of communication of Australian Aboriginal people. The non-existence of written language defined their artwork. Knowledge of the land, events and beliefs describes the story telling of Aboriginal people.

Some symbols that Aboriginal Australians were using and their vibrant colours
Some symbols that Aboriginal Australians were using and their vibrant colours- Credit:

Moral teachings were an essential part of story telling and symbols have a strong influence on children. Symbols are still used in contemporary paintings and religious ceremonies. The meaning of symbols depends upon the context and interpretation of an artist. Most symbols are pretty simple but they carry the whole story.

Symbols like campfire, tree, hill, spring or waterhole define the meaning according to the tribe. The puzzle of symbols and stories includes the whole painting, the region and style of the artist. Colours have a clarifying shine like the blue circles which depict water. An aerial perspective is the style of many Aboriginal paintings.

The Indigenous People of Torres Strait Islands

Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous people from Queensland whose exquisite artistic culture emphasizes their presence. Sculptures, print making and mask making, particularly turtleshell masks characterize their artwork. The Torres Strait Islands are the hidden gem between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Traditional crocodile mask of the Torre Straits islanders
Traditional crocodile mask of the Torre Straits islanders- Credit:

Rituals and ceremonies were the main occasions to wear turtleshell masks. Representing the ancestors was the guiding idea for this tradition. Turtle shell is a basis for this mask framed by wood and coconut fibres. The crocodile’s head represents the impressive design, most commonly in use.

The shining symbol of Torres Strait Islanders is a headdress or dhari covering their flag as well. Its deeper meaning is peace and harmony.

Woodcarving intertwines with their traditional customs most eloquently.

Today, Torres Strait Islanders mainly occupy the mainland Australia, rather than islands.

The Contemporary History of Aboriginal Art

The first paintings were discovered around 1930, covering mostly desert landscapes. The Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira glorified the watercolour paintings starting in 1937. The first exhibition of Aboriginal art took place in Adelaide. Watercolours became a popular style until the 1970s, taking a bloom with the Hermansburg School.

Palm Valley by Albert Namatjira, one of his most popular watercolour paintings
Palm Valley by Albert Namatjira, one of his most popular watercolour paintings- Credit:

An art teacher, Geoffey Bardon, started in 1971 a new genre on Western mediums like canvas and boards. They substituted the stories in the sand and each needed a particular permission. Each painting was a unique personal journey covering daily habits.

Dreamtime is a period that covers the creation of the world and the heart of Aboriginal art. Jukkurpa or Tingari are other names for Dreamtime, which shows great Aboriginal identity.

The colours became more vibrant in the 1980s with new Aboriginal artists. Soft tones characterise the Papunya Tula region and strong nuances belong to the Western Desert communities.

Modern Aboriginal Artists

After the success of Albert Namatjira, modern Australian art gained further influence thanks to ancient times.

The Aboriginal Memorial in 1988 was the first huge event that united 43 artists from Ramingining. Rover Thomas Joolama is one of the most prestigious artists who remarked the glorious impact of Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1990.

Emily Kngwarreye signed the new wave of Aboriginal art that influenced many new artists. Her painting Earth’s creation is the most prominent title.

Different Types of Aboriginal Art

The thousands of years of Aboriginal art created a large palette starting from rock carving and cave painting. Rock painting takes under its shelter at least five different styles. X-ray art puts a focus on anatomical features and bone structures. It originated in Arnhem land in Northern Australia.

The fascinating and colourful Aboriginal dot painting
The fascinating and colourful Aboriginal dot painting- Credit:

Stencil painting, as one of the oldest techniques, differs between negative and positive styles. Dot painting has become a very popular type in recent years.

Bradshaw paintings or Gwion art are rich figures of humans coming in various forms. The lovely ornaments include bags, tassels and headdresses. The name shines in honour of the  European livestock farmer Joseph Bradshaw. The controversial nature of Gwion Gwion art belongs to its origins.

Face paintings and paintings on leaves, bark and baobab seeds cultivated from Aboriginal art.

Jewelry values the connection with the land, empowering the creative significance of Aboriginal art.

Valuing Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal art brings authenticity, a unique flow with historical significance. Shaping the Australian identity Aboriginal art opens the space for the new market. It survived thousands of years and brought anthropological values.

The colourful landscape made as a dot painting
The colourful landscape made as a dot painting- Credit:

Enriching the world’s galleries and museums, it gave the deeper strength to the ancient delight and understanding Aboriginal myths and legends. Sometimes being the only business in the small communities, the perspectives change.

Appreciating the artist pulls the strings to history and its lessons. Understanding the unique qualities of each artist brings additional value to the indigenous culture. The enticing touch of Aboriginal art reflects the spiritual practices that shaped the art of storytelling. The prejudices fall down with the revival of Aboriginal art.

Religious Aspects of Aboriginal Art

Dreamtime gives significance to the religious values of Aboriginal art. Dreaming is the core essence of the Aboriginal culture, bringing the spring of life. Dreaming brings to surface songs, rituals, symbols and ceremonies closely connected to spirituality.

Dreamtime sisters in vibrant colours
Dreamtime sisters in vibrant colours- Credit:

Dreams and totems created the unique shine of their ancestors. Land represents the deepest urge of the ancient Aboriginal spirituality. Instead of writing down the spiritual practices, performing it through dance and songs brings future values.

The Creation period or Dreaming intertwines with the landscape treasures and shines under focus of the Aboriginal art. Spirit flew from the Creation period and created hills, mountains and rivers.

Night sky and stars give powerful glaze to Aboriginal art, pulling the roots to the Creation and beliefs. These images are connected to the vast Australian Desert.

In Great Sandy Desert women had their own sacred rituals and objects.

Arts Ceduna- The First Aboriginal Art Centre

Arts Ceduna covers the large collection of Aboriginal art in the Far West region of South Australia. Since opening in 2001, it gathers more than 100 artists selling their artwork.

Aboriginal art centre in Ceduna and its artworks
Aboriginal art centre in Ceduna and its artworks- Credit:

Original Aboriginal paintings, didgeridoos, boomerangs and many gifts occupy the scope of Arts Ceduna. Giving workshops and training materials helps the Aboriginal artists to get new opportunities.

The economic development offers a pristine atmosphere and goals for the artists in Ceduna. The nearby communities such as Oak Valley, Yalata, Scotdesco and Koonibba are also on the way to prosperity.

Experiencing the local languages like Wirangu and Kookatha is the desirable advantage of the Arts Ceduna. Preserving them on CDs will take visitors to ancient times.

Conclusion: The Aboriginal Art of Australia

Aboriginal culture envelops ancient wisdom, life hidden in Australia thousands of years ago. Appreciating indigenous people means absorbing that knowledge and silent communication.

Visual understanding of life opens the doors to creativity and tradition. Symbols identify the cheerfulness that exists in the dance and songs as a vital part of the culture. Dot paintings might be very simple but symbolize stars, the stories hidden in the fascinating images. Actually, they hide the secret meaning from non-Indigenous people.

As one of the longest cultures, Aboriginal art shines with the marvellous examples of ancient practices in the modern galleries and museums. The anthropological value touches the spheres of spirituality and cultural behaviour.

The Aboriginal culture influences the modern art in Australia in the way that tales and symbolism create paintings.

One thought on “Anthropology: The Aboriginal Art of Australia (Oldest Tradition of Art in the World)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *