10 Facts About Aboriginal Art

1. A large proportion of contemporary Aboriginal art is based on important ancient stories and symbols centred on 'the Dreamtime' – the period in which Indigenous people believe the world was created. The Dreamtime stories are up to and possibly even exceeding 50,000 years old, and have been handed down through the generations for all those years.
2. Australian Aboriginal people have no written language of their own, and so the important stories central to the people's culture are based on the traditional icons (symbols)  and information in the artwork, which go hand in hand with recounted stories, dance or song, helping to pass on vital information and preserve their culture. Although it may be tempting to compare aboriginal art to a Western art movement, its origins are usually coming from a completely different visual language.

Detail: Michaelle Possum Nungurrayi 'Womens Ceremony' 132 x 198cm

3. Paintings are also used for teaching: A painting (in effect a visual story) is often used by Aboriginal people for different purposes, and the interpretations of the iconography (symbols) in the artwork can vary according to the audience. So the story may take one form when told to children and a very different and higher level form when speaking to initiated elders.
4. Australia has always been very multicultural – there were over 500 indigenous language groups before white contact!  With so many different languages, cultures and regions existing in Aboriginal Australia, it’s not surprising that different regions have different artistic styles and use different artistic media today!
5. Artists need permission to paint a particular story: Where ancient and important stories are concerned, and particularly those containing secret or sacred information, an artist must have permission to paint the story she or he paints. Traditional Aboriginal artists cannot paint a story that does not belong to them through family lineage.
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