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Traditional Art  Forms




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Traditional art forms

 rock engraving | rock painting | ground mosaics | desert art | body painting | artifacts | dot art

In the beginning

The aborigines’ nomadic way of life and the extremes of the desert climate made it unlikely that much of their art would be preserved.   Designs painted on artifacts quickly wore off. Body painting and sand mosaics were only intended to last for the duration of the ceremony. Today, however, great care is taken to preserve and record aboriginal art. It is recognized as an important part of their heritage.

Traditionally there were large variations in the style, symbols and materials used in the production of art in different regions of Australia. This diversity included bark paintings and wooden sculptures with intricate cross-hatched designs, delicate engravings on pearl shell in the West Kimberley, symbol-based sand and body designs of the Central and Western Desert, engraved rock in Tasmania and rock art in Cape York and central Queensland.


Rock engraving

Rock engraving is the oldest and most lasting form of traditional Aboriginal Art.

Rock painting

Most artworks in the distant past were made with materials that have not survived the passing of time. Rock art however has left rich and enduring evidence of human presence in Australia for an estimated 30 000 years. Aboriginal Australians believe they have been here since the Dreamtime.
In the desert areas of central and South Australia the designs in rock painting are similar to those used in rock engraving.  

Desert Art

 Sand drawings can depict objects, illustrate a story, or be a map of the landscape, indicating landmarks and distances to be traveled. Desert art includes the use of traditional symbols which can be read in many ways.

 Because of this, even the secret , sacred parts of a Dreaming can be painted but still remain hidden from us.

The Artist is the only person who fully understands the meaning. Only a few of their meanings have been given here for the traditional symbols used in Desert Art

Ground mosaics

The mosaics are usually part of a religious ceremony. They are made from finely chopped leaves, stems and flowers of the native daisy and birds feathers.

Body painting

Body painting is a group activity associated with various ceremonies. The traditional designs are applied with the index finger and painting sticks.

The materials used are red ochre, black charcoal and white clay.




Painting on artifacts



The designs used are similar to those in body decoration, ground mosaics and sand drawings.    

They are then applied to the boomerangs, bull-roarers, emu eggs, didgeridoos, pottery and copious other items.



Today great care is taken to preserve and record aboriginal art.

It is recognized as an important part of their heritage and today many of their "dreamings" are reproduced on implements for hunting and musical instruments like clap sticks and the didgeridoo ( or didjeridu.)


Dot Art

Contemporary Aboriginal art or "dot painting" had its origins at Papunya (Northern Territory) in 1971. These early works are usually small and painted with acrylic paints on fibreboard.  Only men were permitted to paint and invariably many of these early works contained sacred/secret images. During the mid 1970's the men decided to stop painting sacred images and began to paint on canvas as a more convenient medium. Up until the early 1980's dot painting was exclusive to Central Australia. Many painting communities emerged including: Utopia; Lajamanu; Ngukurr; Turkey Creek (Warmun); and Balgo.






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