Archaeologists have dated some Aboriginal rock paintings back from 20,000 years ago, recognising them as one of the oldest recorded forms of art in the world. Aboriginal art is integral to its people and its culture, which is based on its strong ties with the land. This includes the animals that inhabit the area, the effects of the seasons, environmental changes, and the generations of Indigenous people who have resided in and alongside nature. The stories of the land have been told verbally and through drawings and paintings for centuries rather than via a written language, and as time progresses, Aboriginal Art does too.
Traditional Aboriginal Art
Aboriginal artists did not actually begin painting on canvas or boards until about 50 years ago. Traditionally, they would paint symbols on rock walls and on their own skin for tribal and ceremonial purposes, but they were also known to have created bark paintings, wood carvings, and sand paintings. The Aboriginal people typically made bright and vibrant colours like red, yellow, and brown by using iron clay pigments and ochre. They also used charcoal to darken colours and make black.
The purpose of these art pieces was primarily to pass stories on to one another and convey ideas among themselves. The social history of Aboriginal art has had an important impact on its wider popularisation outside of Aboriginal communities and has helped its paintings become what they are today.
Modern Aboriginal Art
Modern Aboriginal art found its beginnings in 1971 when a schoolteacher named Geoffrey Bardon was working with Aboriginal groups in Papunya and other remote communities around Alice Springs. Bardon noticed them drawing symbols in the sand and recognised that the art was significant to these people as a form of language. He was concerned with preserving this important part of their culture and lore, so he consulted with the seniors within these groups. Bardon encouraged Aboriginal artists to record their drawings and the stories associated with them on canvas and board with watercolour and acrylic paints rather than the traditional ochre pigments. In doing so, their art was expressed in a new and more permanent form. The drawings were now able to maintain their artistic integrity for longer and survive travel if the artist wished to share it with more people.
These days, style and colour choices can be an indicator of where the art is from. Some Aboriginal communities prefer to stick to traditional earth colours while others opt for more modern, cool colours. To see some stunning examples of contemporary Indigenous Australian art or to learn more about Aboriginal art symbols, view the Mbantua galleries, contact us online.