Aboriginal Art


Aboriginal Art is the art of the Aboriginal Australians. Traditionally almost entirely religious and ceremonial, it was directed toward portraying stories of the Dreaming, a creation mythology reflecting the Aboriginal hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Perishable materials were used, for example in bark painting and carved trees and logs, and few early works of this type survive. A great deal of rock art remains intact, however, and forms one of the richest continuing traditions in the world. Abstract patterns and stylized figures predominate. Ground and body painting were also practiced, chiefly as part of secret initiation rites.

Rock engravings are found throughout the continent. The earliest include those in Koonalda Cave, South Australia, and at the Early Man site on Cape York Peninsula, north Queensland. They are characterized by stylized designs of circles, animal tracks, and meandering patterns, and are between 15,000 and 20,000 years old. In the Hawkesbury River region of New South Wales, large figures of animals, birds, fish, and spirit beings have been engraved into the sandstone. Cave walls were painted using natural ochres of red and yellow, white pipe clay, and charcoal. Such paintings include the vast galleries in the Laura district of Cape York, which feature the sticklike Quinkan spirit figures. In the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Wandjina figures are towering red and white creatures with halolike headdresses; in Arnhem Land in Northern Territory, paintings include remarkable 'x-ray' figures - animals and humans with inner organs depicted. Stencils, frequently of hands, are found in all rock-painting areas and were produced by placing an object against the rock wall and then blowing a mouthful of paint over it. Trees and logs carved for ceremonial purposes include the burial poles made by the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville islands. These carvings are painted in complex designs using black, white, red, and yellow. The carved trees of the Darling Basin region of New South Wales were used in initiation ceremonies and burial rites. In central Australia, churinga, plaques of wood or stone, were incised or painted with highly stylized images of totem figures.

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