In this article you can learn about different forms of Aboriginal art. For many people Aboriginal art is synonymous with dot painting, but in reality Aboriginal art comes in many different forms.
For a brief overview of the history of Aboriginal art, look here: https://www.aboriginal-art-australia.com/aboriginal-art-library/the-story-of-aboriginal-art/
Before reading about Aboriginal art, start off by thinking about the art work that is traditional or special for the place in which you live (or a place that you know well):
- What makes it unique? Is it the style, the materials used, the stories told through the art, or a combination of all three?
- Do the paintings reflect the colours and culture of where you live? How?
(After you have finished working with the tasks below. Answer the two questions above again, but this time about the Aboriginal art you have studied. What similarities are there with your first answers?)
Many people believe dot paintings are a long standing tradition in Aboriginal culture, but in fact they did not become common until the 1970s. In this article, you can read more about the history of dot painting: https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/arts/are-dot-paintings-traditional-aboriginal-art#axzz4cRGA7YhM
Dot paintings often have a bird’s eye perspective, where the viewer is looking down on the picture. The paintings can contain maps of an area of the countryside, or they can tell the story of the people who live there, show Songlines and/or stories from the Dreamtime.
The symbols found in dot paintings can be interpreted using keys, such as the one below (taken from https://www.aboriginal-art-australia.com/aboriginal-art-library/symbolism-in-australian-indigenous-art/):
Other modern forms of Aboriginal art can contain elements that are similar to those found in dot paintings, such as the one on the home page of this website (you can read more about it here), or in the paintings expressing reactions to the stock routes in Western Australia, as found in this article.
- Use the key to interpret the dot painting above. What does it mean?
- Look at the dot painting below. It was made by a school. What does it symbolize? Try to work it out yourself before checking at the bottom of this page:
3. a. Now use Google to find a couple of other dot paintings (search for ” aboriginal dot paintings”), and use the key to try to interpret these paintings. Share your interpretations with a classmate.
b. Finally, see how much you can interpret in this painting, called “Bush Fire”, by Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi:
4. Using the symbols in the key, try to design your own dot painting of either:
- your school
- the area in which you live
- a story of a day out in the countryside from your childhood.
Explain what you have drawn to a classmate. How did you find this way of drawing a story compared to what you have learnt at school? What similarities are there with how you have learnt to draw?
Rock and bark painting
Have a look at this article on the Wandjina rainmaker spirit. Two forms of aboriginal art are shown here. One form is rock paintings. These can be found all over Australia and often refer to stories of ancient spirits and from the Dreamtime. You can read more about rock art here: https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/arts/aboriginal-rock-art
(Rock painting of Wandjina spirits in the Kimberleys).
In the article about Wandjina spirits, you can see a painting by Alec Mingelmanganu. Mingelmanganu uses another Aboriginal artistic technique, bark painting. Another bark painting is shown below (can you can see fruit bats hanging off branches of a tree on the right hand side?):
(Bark painting in Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, artist unknown)
This short video (6 minutes) discusses some of the most important bark painters and paintings:
- Choose one of the artistic styles mentioned above. Find three paintings online made in this style and present them to your classmates. Your presentation should include:
- The name of the artist and background information on them
- The history and typical features of the style
- The story told in the painting.
Albert Namatjira (1902-1959) was a famous Aboriginal landscape artist who made paintings of the outback. He came from the Western Arrernte people of the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. He was born and grew up on the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission outside Alice Springs. When he was 32, he started to paint watercolours and became the inspiration for the Hermannsburg School of painting.
- Read this article about Namatjira’s life: https://manyhandsart.com.au/about/albert-namatjira/ . How did his life reflect the treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia at that time? If you don’t know much about the problems faced by Aboriginal people, look at the articles on the Stolen Generations (Two Songs and Rabbit Proof Fence) and on Australia Day.
- Find four of Namatjira’s paintings online, and make a short presentation about his life and his paintings, using each of the paintings actively in your presentation.
Should non-indigenous artists paint Indigenous figures?
An artist in Adelaide recently had his exhibition closed down after complaints about his use of Wandjina figures in his paintings. He claims this is censorship, his critics say that his use is inappropriate. Read the link, watch the video and discuss the issue:
For more about Indigenous art and cultural appropriation, look here.
If you are using this page with younger pupils, you might be interested in these coloring pages from Brisbane Kids?
Interpretation of dot painting (task 2): This painting depicts a school with the circles around the outside being the classrooms. The U shapes are people, small Us are children and the large U represents the teacher.