Art has been important in Australia for thousands of years as represented through Aboriginal culture. It is through the varied and diverse Aboriginal tribes scattered throughout Australia that many unique and interesting artforms have been represented, with different styles finding homes in different corners of the country. Art served many purposes in Aboriginal culture, but was often used to tell stories about the origins of the Earth, demonstrate cultural laws and offer many other important societal needs. To better demonstrate a few ways that Aboriginal tribes depicted their unique culture through art, we take a look at a few fascinating styles of Aboriginal art that you can still see to this day.
An introduction to some of the more common styles
Although people unfamiliar with Aboriginal art might recognise a diverse selection of aboriginal art symbols that are demonstrated in Aboriginal art, they might not realise that certain styles and symbols are tied to certain geographical regions of the country. For example, in Australia’s north, a style we know as x-ray art was practiced by tribes, with this style being used to depict animals and humans as if they were skeletons (hence the term x-ray). Another popular style of Aboriginal art – and one that most people will immediately recognise – is dot painting. Unlike the canvases onto which modern dot paintings are applied, historical dot paintings were found on rocks in the deserts of Central and Western Australia. These dots were also complemented with other shapes, such as dots, hands and stencils, which were altogether used to tell intricate Dreaming stories
Aboriginal art is about more than painting
Although we’ve mentioned some of the more “popular” forms of Aboriginal art, there are quite a few more that warrant attention, although these sometimes don’t necessarily involve painting mediums. A very popular form of art in Aboriginal culture involves wood carvings. Often used to tell stories, these beautiful wood pieces are expertly crafted from tools that include sharp stones, wire, and fire. Weaving is also a very popular craft, with different levels of artistry implemented depending on the need of the piece – weaving could mean anything as basic as a functional basket to more ornate mats and dillybags (collecting bags). The final approach to Aboriginal art we’d like to touch on is string art, a way to cleverly manipulate string to produce different designs and shapes. Due to the artform, these were only very temporary and often served as a way to tell stories.
Go out and witness Aboriginal art for yourself!
Appreciating all of these forms of Aboriginal art will necessitate you go out and experience them yourself. Travelling to your local state gallery or travelling interstate to see some of the larger state galleries can give you the opportunity to see some of the most important examples of Aboriginal art produced in modern times. The information provided should also give you an indication of where it was produced and by whom, so you can work out for yourself where in Australia the symbols on the paintings are linked to. Supporting contemporary Aboriginal artists is another way to ensure the community keeps producing wonderful works that demonstrate their incredible culture to people who might be unfamiliar with it.