INTRODUCTION TO ABORIGINAL ART
Dreaming is an approximate English translation of an Aboriginal
concept, which has no equivalent in the English language. Groups
each have their own words for this concept: for example the Pitjantjatjara
people use the term Tjukurpa, the Arrernte refer to it as Aldjerinya
and the Adnyamathanha use the word Nguthuna.
Dreaming does not convey the fullness of the concept for Aboriginal
people but is the most acceptable English word to Aboriginal people.
The word is acceptable because very often revelations or insights
are received in dreams or recurring visions. The Dreaming refers
to all that is known and all that is understood. It is the way Aboriginal
people explain life and how their world came into being. It is central
to the existence of traditional Aboriginal people, their lifestyle
and their culture, for it determines their values and beliefs and
their relationship with every living creature and every feature
of the landscape.
JOURNEY OF THE
The Dreaming tells of the journeys and deeds of creator ancestors.
The creator ancestors made the trees, rocks, waterholes, rivers,
mountains and stars, as well as the animals and plants, and their
spirits inhabit these features of the natural world today. Good
and bad behaviours are demonstrated in Dreaming stories as ancestors
hunt, marry, care for children and defend themselves from their
CONCEPT OF TIME
The Dreaming is often understood as a period of time, but this European
concept of a unit of time in past does not contain the full meaning.
The Dreaming is not some long past era but a continuous entity,
from which people come, which people renew and which people go back
to. Art is one to the ways through which Aboriginal people communicate
with and maintain a oneness with the Dreaming. When people take
on the characteristics of the Dreaming ancestors through dance,
song and art and when they maintain sacred sites, the spirits of
the creator ancestors are renewed.
It is the natural world, which therefore provides the link between
the people and the Dreaming, especially the land (or 'country')
to which a person belongs. Aboriginal people see themselves as related
to, and part of, this natural world and know its features in intricate
detail. This relationship carries responsibilities for its survival
and continuity so that each person has special obligations to protect
and preserve the spirit of the land and the life forms that are
a part of it.
OBLIGATIONS TO OUR 'COUNTRY'
These obligations may take the form of conservation practices, obeying
the law, observing codes of behaviour or involvement in secret/sacred
ceremonial activities, but the influence of the Dreaming is embedded
in every aspect of daily life. The Dreamings permeates through song,
dance, storytelling, painting, artifacts making, hunting and food
gathering activities as well as through the social (kinship) system
because it provides the framework for living.
THE INDIVIDUAL'S LINK WITH THE DREAMING
For Aboriginal people who follow traditional beliefs, the Dreaming
is intensely personal. Each person is linked to it by his or her
individual Dreaming (or totem), this belief involves the idea that
the creator ancestors who were physically alive in the natural features
of the landscape in which they once moved.
UNBORN CHILD'S DREAMING
At the very earliest stage of life, during pregnancy, each fetus
is believed to be activated by one of these 'spirit babies'. Their
presence enters the mother's body from one of the places where spirit
babies are in hiding, waiting for an opportunity to enter a fetus.
Usually the mother associates this event with the place where she
first becomes aware of carrying her child. Because each part of
the landscape is clearly identified with a Dreaming spirit ancestor
there is usually no doubt as to the actual Dreaming to which the
unborn child belongs.
Some earlier writers assumed that Aboriginal people did not know
about physical conception. This is not so. It is simply a matter
of emphasis. Traditional Aboriginal people tended to stress the
gaining of a spiritual identity as the vital aspect of conception.
This belief reinforces the spiritual and physical ties that Aboriginal
people have with the land.
LINKS WITH THE LAND
Whenever a traditional Aboriginal person looks at the landscape,
he or she always sees much more than just the physical features.
There is a deep awareness of the presence of the Dreaming ancestors.
All around are signs of their presence, their tracks, places where
they had dug out valleys, split rocks or disturbed the ground in
their passing. Sometimes too, their bodies or those of their enemies
are perceived in rocks, boulders and trees. Their actual spirits
are also there, not dangerous or unfriendly, living on in the world
they made. It is possible to communicate with ancestor spirits.
The bond that this creates is one of enormous strength. Overall,
the earth is a 'mother' in a real sense.
This interpretation of landscape confers responsibilities of the
highest order. In many lonely places in Australia today there are
quiet, sacred places that are regularly visited and cared for by
the Aboriginal man or woman who is the guardian of the place. Their
responsibilities usually defined the territory occupied by each
group. They also from a basis for land rights claims today.
The Dreaming is as important to Aboriginal people as the Christian
Bible and the whole ethos of Christian belief is to the devout Christian.
The Dreaming is still vitally important to today's Aboriginal people.
It gives a social and spiritual base and links them to their cultural
heritage. Many Aboriginal people are Christian as well as having
a continuing belief in their Dreaming. In some areas, where Aboriginal
people may no longer have the full knowledge of their Dreaming,
they still retain strong spirituality, kinship practices and traditional
values and beliefs.
EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST
Like European art, Aboriginal art represents and symbolises the
world and the beliefs of people. Traditional Aboriginal art represent
the Dreaming but is often also a vital part of ceremonies.
CONCEPT OF ART IN TRADITIONAL
The concept of art in traditional Aboriginal society is very different
to the concept of art in European society. In traditional Aboriginal
societies, activities like dancing, singing, body decorations, sand
drawings, making implements or weaving baskets were not considered
to be separate activities called art and design. All of these activities
were a part of the Dreaming and a part of normal daily life. There
was no concept of a special type of person, artists, because, in
a sense, everyone was an artist. This is changing as tradition-oriented
communities adapt to aspects of western culture although the number
of 'artists' in any Aboriginal group would generally be far greater
than in non-Aboriginal communities.
Aboriginal people traditionally used the materials available to
them to symbolise the Dreaming and their world. As a result, art
forms varied in different areas of Australia. In the central desert,
ground drawing was a very important style of art and throughout
Australia rock art as well as body painting and decoration were
common although varying in styles, method, materials and meaning.
There is and was a wide range of traditional Aboriginal art forms.
Communities today throughout central and northern Australia still
produce traditional art, which has traditional content and meaning.
However, some methods of producing the art may be contemporary,
for example, the use of acrylic paint on canvas or commercial fixatives