CONTEMPORARY ABORIGINAL ART FROM
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SA
It is important to realise that, to many Aboriginal artists, the
distinctions between art, craft and design and the divisions between
traditional and contemporary art based on European understandings
of art. They consider this type of analysis to be largely irrelevant,
and don't necessary refer to their paintings as art.
Many Aboriginal artists work in their chosen field because the
art comes out of their culture, beliefs and history and it provides
a way to sustain life, both economically as well as culturally
In more traditional areas, art may bring in money or goods, which
can then be distributed according to the traditional law, so art
strengthens the Dreaming. In less traditional areas, art can bring
in the money required to live in a money economy, as well as teach
others, Aboriginal and non Aboriginal about history and culture.
"In Aboriginal languages, there is no one definition for the term
art. Aboriginal art is our expression, our culture, our living.
An extension of our identity. Not just an item for a wall or living
room. Aboriginal art is painting, sculpture, dance film making,
photography song writing etc."
Brenda Croft ñ Boomalli
Aboriginal art may be functional, serving practical, spiritual
or ceremonial purposes, but, like other art, it also reflects
the personal and distinctive manner of the artist. It reflects
the values of the culture in which the artist lives and it is
often understood only by a limited and informed audience.
Visual art is only one way of expressing Aboriginal Dreaming.
It is also expressed through song, through dance, story, law,
rituals, craft activities, making implements and other aspects
of daily life. While in the past, the Dreaming was painted on
cave walls, on bodies and on the ground, it is now painted on
bark and canvas as well, but still relates to the Dreaming, even
those works which symbolise dispossession and alienation.
Aboriginal artists who use European methods and materials such
as watercolour landscapes, acrylic paints on canvas, lino prints
and figurative imagery should not be denigrated as not being real
Aboriginal artists. "ÖÖ.it must be observed that indigenous communities
in many parts of the third and fourth worlds are capable of hunting
and gathering in our culture, even as we hunt and gather in theirs."
John Heffernen The heritage of Namitjira the watercolourists of Central Australia.
Aboriginal culture has always been a living and adapting culture,
through interacting with Macassan trading, coping with dramatically
changing climates and shifts in coastline over many thousands
of years as well as the traumatic effects of the past two hundred
years of colonisation. The invasion and settlement by Europeans
and others in Australia has resulted in trauma and dispossession
for most Aboriginal people who survived.
Aboriginal art has adapted according to local situations.
Acrylic paints and canvasses, for example, may be used for commercial
purposes, but the art still reflects the Dreaming and culture.
The art of a particular area usually reflects the environment
and Dreaming of that area. For example, Albert Namitjira painted
the MacDonnell ranges, which is his country. Not Ulluru or the
Olgas. However some urban Aboriginal artist now use Australia
wide themes and sometimes international themes and symbols. Much
of the painting is done by Aboriginal people in urban areas has
been described as contemporary, and this is probably the most
accurate term. However, much of the art which has been described
as contemporary has elements of the Dreaming and relates to the
artist to their culture in a symbolic and spiritual way just as
traditional Aboriginal art does. In urban areas, a major difference
is that the story or symbols depicted and their particular designs
are not always handed down the ancestors. Contemporary Aboriginal
artists have often, though not always, been separated from their
traditional culture, and their painting or other forms of art
have enabled them to express their history, culture and spirituality
in diverse but uniquely Aboriginal ways.