Aboriginal art is as old as the aboriginal occupation of the Australian continent and as such it is at least 40,000 years old. Apart from commercial considerations, the art of the aboriginal people has been an important means of preserving the beautiful cultural heritage of the Aboriginal people.
Indeed, Aboriginal mythology contends that in the the beginning the Ancestral Beings rose from the folds of the earth and stretching up to the scorching sun they called, "I am!" As each Ancestor sang out their name, "I am Snake", "I am Honey Ant", they created the most sacred of their songs. Slowly they began to move across the barren land naming all things and thus bringing them into being. Their words forming verses as the Ancestors walked about, they sang mountains, rivers and deserts into existence. Wherever they went, their songs remained, creating a web of songlines over the Country. As they travelled the Ancestors hunted, ate, made love, sang and danced leaving a trail of Dreaming along the songlines. Finally, at the end of their journey the Ancestral Beings sang 'back into' the earth where they can be seen as land formations, sleeping.
There are many different facets of Aboriginal art, from painting, sculpture, ceremony and dance, to the making of body ornaments, carved utensils, body painting, feather work and fibre art and spun or woven articles for everyday use.
All these arts form a living tradition that has been passed down through the generations from the earliest times. This web site will focus primarily on the more well known art forms such as rock art and painting.
Aboriginal rock art is generally regard as one of the oldest forms of aboriginal art being more than 40,000 years old, a time span five times greater than the age of the Egyptian pyramids. Rock art gives us descriptive information about social activities, material culture, economy, environmental change, and myth and religion.
In many cases it is often difficult to identify the subject of the painting due to the interpretation of the artist. In some cases the images can also be distorted from reality due to religious beliefs making it difficult to tell if the subject matter is a real human figure or a mythological being. Interestingly, in the Kimberley region, Aborigines claim that the oldest rock art, the Bradshaw paintings, were made by the birds that pecked the rocks until their beaks bled and painted the images with their tail feathers.
DOT paintings from the indigenous Papunya community from National Museum of Australia's successful 2007-08 exhibition are being sent to an exhibition at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.The exhibition, Papunya Painting: Out of the Australian Desert, will be the biggest collection of Aboriginal art to show in the Chinese capital.The Chinese are quite hungry for knowledge about Aboriginal art and culture.
It is understood that China will reciprocate by sending an exhibition of its own, possibly a recent exhibition of Chinese revolutionary art.
The Aboriginal collection, made up of 48 artworks and 18 ethnographic objects, tells the story of the Papunya Tula art movement between 1974 and 1981. The movement established Australian indigenous art in the contemporary art world. The artists in this exhibition have become familiar names in the art world and include such big names as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri.
Detailed information plates, giving the artists' biographies and explaining the symbolism of motifs, will be translated into Mandarin with the aim of enhancing the understanding of indigenous cultures.
It is worth noting that the Papunya collective formed among indigenous men of the western deserts of Central Australia and has become the model for many other indigenous artists collectives.
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The ancestral creators can be found on rock walls from the huge mouthless Wandjina figures of the Kimberley east to the giant Gangi Nganang of Keep River National Park to the large creation figures of the Victoria River. In Western Arnhem, Aborigines distinguish between the oldest rock art known as Mimi Art, younger images of the ancestor beings when they entered the landscape, and more recent pictures created by their people. Aborigines maintain that that the Mimi people inhabited the land before the Rainbow Serpent created the Aborigines. The Mimi people painted small dynamic images, taught the Aborigines how to paint, hunt, sing, dance, and talk, and then became spirit beings.
Arnhem Land art could be world's oldest
Photo: Robert Gunn
Rock art found in central Arnhem Land could be among the oldest examples of rock painting in the world - if the birds depicted in the painting prove to be what scientists think they are. Rock art specialists suspect that the paintings depicted the long-extinct genyornis. The genyornis, a flightless bird which stood three times the height of an emu, was one of many megafauna to became extinct when humans began burning the continent for hunting and land-clearing 40,000 years ago.
Indeed, verification of the age of the paintings would more than double the potential age of painted rock art in Australia. In this respect, rock once attached to the site of the paintings was yet to be dated, however, it is believed that once completed, this would confirm the species depicted.
The paintings showed a thick, rounded beak, which was a characteristic of the genyornis. The painted birds, the largest of which is a metre in height, also feature a crop or a muscular pouch near the throat which forms part of the digestive tract and short, very solid legs.
Certainly, if the image was that of a genyornis it would date the paintings as at least 40,000 years old, making it one of the oldest examples of rock art in the world. It would certainly slightly predate some of the oldest reliably dated rock art of parts of Europe, which go back 30,000 years
Archaeologists have placed the many styles in a chronological sequence delineated by environmental changes and historic events. In western Arnhem, archeologists recognize three periods: Pre-Estuarine (drier climate, extinct animals like thylacine), Estuarine (rising sea levels, marine fauna like barramundi and salt water crocodiles, Rainbow Serpent), and Freshwater (freshwater fauna like magpie geese, goose feather adornment). Images of freshwater fauna showing internal anatomy appeared in the last 3,000 years. More recent pictures record contact with Macassans and later Europeans (e.g., boats, guns). Likewise, there are material changes as boomerangs are replaced by composite spears and broad spearthrowers, which, in turn, are replaced by long spearthrowers.
THE EARLY ART OF ARNHEM LAND
Archaeologists working at a remote site in Arnhem Land have made a discovery that establishes early Aborigines as among the most advanced people in human evolution. Arnhem Land is an Aboriginal homeland sacred to its people. It occupies about 97,000 square kilometres of forests and spectacular rivers and gorges east of the Northern Territory capital of Darwin.
A team from Monash University has found and firmly dated a fragment of charcoal rock art to 28,000 years ago. This makes it the oldest painting so far proven by carbon-dating in Australia, and among some of the earliest evidence of human painting in the world.
The early art of Arnhem Land
France's Chauvet caves were dated to 35,000 years ago and were known as the world's oldest confirmed rock art sites until recently, when drawings in Spain's El Castillo caves were dated to 40,000 years. Archaeologists are confident that the Arnhem Land rock art will come to be seen as being as significant as the French and Spanish sites.
Indeed it is felt that this discovery will put Aboriginal people up there among the most advanced people in human evolution. Without doubt, some of the earliest achievemnts by modern humans were happening in Australia.
Aboriginal painting has also evolved in a similar manner with many different styles being evident. The first painting below is by artist Jabaljarri of the Jawoyn tribe and is in the 'dot' style used by the Aboriginal artist of Central Australia. The painting tells the story of people travelling to a meeting to learn about setting up their own businesses. The meaning of various symbols used on the painting is also explained under the main painting, below.
The second painting is by Walter Lui from the Torres Strait. The painting incorporates the predominant influences in the Torres Strait. It incorporates a dari [head dress], a warup [drum] and a colap [spinning top] which represent the importance culture plays in the everyday lives of Torres Strait islanders. The crayfish, the boat and the pearl shell represent elements of the marine industry in the Torres Strait.
The Musee du quai
Branly in Paris, next to the Eiffel Tower on the Seine, is an
impressive building made even more so by the integration into its
visionary architecture, the indigenous art of the Australian
Aboriginal people. The art is produced by eight different
aboriginal art communities across Australia and reflects the
spiritualism of a rich art form that has its origins on the wall
of a cave possibly as early as 40,000 years ago.
One would have to suspect that there is a message here for the many talented artists throughout the Pacific region. Certainly, our indigenous art has considerable cultural and artistic merit as well as financial worth. In this respect, the intellectual copyright should remain with our people and the financial rewards should, hopefully, in the longer term, provide appropriate benefits to our Oceania communities.
Australian Aboriginal Anthropology
Australian Aboriginal Anthropology 1
Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime
Australian Aboriginal Music