December 04, 2007

Aboriginal Art

Indigenous Australian art is art produced by Indigenous Australians, covering works that pre-date European colonisation as well as contemporary art by Aboriginal Australians based on traditional culture.

It covers a time span of 60,000 years and represent a large range of traditions and styles of the indigenous Australians. These have been studied in recent decades and gained increased international recognition.[1] Aboriginal Art covers a wide medium including painting on leaves, wood carving, rock carving, sculpture, and ceremonial clothing, as well as artistic embellishments found on weaponry and also tools.

Art is one of the key rituals of Aboriginal culture and was and still is, used to mark territory, record history, and tell stories about the dreamtime. But its importance to traditional Indigenous life is difficult for non-Indigenous people to understand. To quote Howard Morphy (1991): "Art was, and is, a central component of the traditional Yolngu way of life, of significance in the political domain, in the relationships between clans, and in the relations between men and women. Art was and remains an important component of the system of restricted knowledge, and at a more metaphysical level is the major means of recreating ancestral events, ensuring continuity with the ancestral past, and communicating with the spirit world."

For example, a rock painting of a Rainbow Serpent is not just a picture of a 'Rainbow Serpent'. It is a manifestation of the Rainbow Serpent - she resides in the painting, and will come out and devour you if you behave inappropriately towards the painting.

To quote Morphy (1991) again: "Paintings as ancestral designs do not simply represent the ancestral beings by encoding stories... As far as the Yolngu are concerned, the designs are an integral part of the ancestral beings themselves... The designs themselves possess or contain the power of the ancestral being."

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