Learn about the origins of aboriginal artwork and aboriginal patterns that shaped hundreds of generations.
Indigenous art can be traced back to about 60,000 to 80,000 years, aligning with Australia’s Aboriginals’ settlement. The first traits of aboriginal patterns can be found in primitive rocks still somewhere visible today, with ochre used as paint to showcase tales, myths, and other essential knowledge about aboriginal culture.
The paintings created by indigenous people helped archeologists know more about the past and why they chose certain pigments, surfaces, and information to preserve in their art. In this article, you can find a detailed history of aboriginal art to learn more about the impressive primitive pieces created hundreds of years ago and how communities still pay tribute to their ancestors in current days still painting with the same perspective and mission.
The 1930s marked the “official” beginning of aboriginal art, with Australian Aboriginals already using rocks, barks, and ochres as body paint for thousands of years, but up until that decade, the first paintings were made. They painted landscapes in watercolors, and the first exhibition was held in Adelaide in 1937 by the famous first aboriginal watercolorist Albert Namatjira.
Until the ’70s, aboriginal artists mainly used watercolors, and the paintings we now see in museums painted on canvas were created about 50 years ago. Then, the “original” aboriginal paintings were made on rock walls and other surfaces while singing songs or telling stories to the community.
The well-known Aboriginal art movement that began in the early ’70s was possible thanks to a professor who was working with indigenous children near Alice Springs, who noticed that men were telling stories and drawing symbols in the sand. Professor Geoffrey Bardon encouraged these men to paint their symbols on a canvas, and the movement began. As a result, aboriginal people discovered a new way to portray their stories and keep them for as long as they wanted to.
What’s more interesting about this is that contemporary indigenous art has been cataloged as “the most exciting contemporary art form of the 20th Century” (1) and that aboriginal artists are not allowed to paint every indigenous story they want; thus, there are some which are passed down from generations to generations while respecting the family’s skin color, meaning that an artists cannot portray a story that doesn’t below to its family.
There are many different styles of aboriginal paintings that can be found at the Brisbane art gallery, and the one people recognize the most is the technique used by aboriginal people that painted dots to hide information. Indigenous artists would paint dots when they felt afraid of white men finding out their private and sacred knowledge; therefore, their symbols and iconography were hidden behind these small dots on the chosen surface.
Styles of indigenous art vary according to the place where they lived and language spoke, with some recognizable traits in the different art pieces that can easily be paired with the community where they were painted in. However, when it comes to the most common paint used, ochre, pieces that had this pigment can be traced back to Arnhem Land and east Kimberley, and the primary colors used were red, yellow, black, charcoal, and white, which were obtained locally from the land.
The choice of bold colors is another characteristic of each community. For example, Papunya Tula uses a soft earth-based color palette in the western desert. In contrast, other communities, such as those found in the Western Desert, choose bold primary colors, such as red, yellow, and blue.
Up to this day, aboriginal art is well-known in Australia, with various governmental aid to help indigenous people continue with their form of art. Thanks to this prevalence, other small communities in other countries were able to find incentives to showcase their art to the world, creating a very diverse world of indigenous artwork.
Furthermore, the market for aboriginal art has increased tremendously, helping artists and their communities obtain a decent profit for their works. This proves the importance of supporting local aboriginal art and how other communities can help each other.