Descended from the first people to leave Africa up to 75,000 years ago, Australian Aborigines are one of the longest-surviving cultures in the world. Evidence of this culture can be traced back through the distinctive practice of Aboriginal art, following specific mediums and methods to produce the work. Aboriginal art can be characterized by a meticulous set of symbols and intricate iconographies standing as a written language for the people. This language depicts stories of the Dreamtime; the art stands as a direct expression of their understanding of the cosmos.
Aboriginal mythologies and cosmological frameworks such are the primary subjects for expression in all Aboriginal art.
Even contemporary art is based on ancient stories. However, artists require permission to paint or track particular stories, as entitlement to them is based on kinship and descent. The stories and sacred elements of the narratives are handed down through families and taught through the art. They are inherited. Traditional Aboriginal artists may not paint a story or mythology that does not belong to them through a family lineage, as they often contain secret or sacred information.
Traditionally, artwork was painted on rocks, walls or often the body itself as part of a ceremonial process. One of the oldest forms of Aboriginal art is painting on bark, yet the paints have a relatively short life on such a material and the bark itself disintegrates in a fairly short period of time.
Traditional Aboriginal art is instantly recognisable with a number of distinctive features. There are key methods and styles used to create this iconic imagery. Dotting is done supposedly to distort sacred information and keep secret private and unauthorised knowledge; bigger and repetitive circles are also evident in artwork, as they are important sources of water for the Aboriginal people.
Living in such a harsh environment like the desert, aspects of survival are quite often at the centre of focus. As an expression of cosmological understanding, this type of art is often used to teach. Although it can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on who is receiving it, the visual stories often work to teach younger generations about Aboriginal mythology and culture in general. A lot of the artwork contains strong behavioural and educational aspects and is used similarly to how stories like Aesop’s Fables are used in the Western world. The narratives are used to highlight information or a moral.
Although Aboriginal art has sparked interest in the Western world in relatively recent years, it is in fact one of the oldest forms of material culture. Under this premise, it qualifies for both galleries and museums, with both artistic and anthropological merit. Through the beautiful and intricate patterns evident in Aboriginal art, the most sacred of ideas live on