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Aboriginal Art: Learn and Buy Ethically

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Buy Australian Aboriginal Art Online Ethically with ART ARK® 

ART ARK® is a social enterprise dedicated to sharing and selling Australian Aboriginal Art to promote social and economic opportunities in remote communities while combating unethical dealers.

We partner exclusively with not-for-profit, community-run, and publicly audited Aboriginal Art centres that prioritise the interests of their artists. When you choose to buy Aboriginal Art through ART ARK®, you commit to fairness, authenticity, and respect. Our mission transcends selling art and involves advocating for authenticity and fighting against exploitation in the Aboriginal Art market.

Explore the rich stories of culture, tradition, and heritage encapsulated in each piece of Aboriginal art. By selecting ART ARK®, your purchase supports ethical practices and genuine Aboriginal Art. Discover our curated collection and take pride in owning a piece that truly makes a difference.

Beyond offering beautiful artworks, we invite you to explore and celebrate the rich history of Aboriginal Art in Australia. Learn about its unique symbols, the profound meaning of the Dreaming, and how Dreamtime stories are artistically expressed.

At ART ARK®, we aim to impart knowledge on how to ethically buy Aboriginal Art and support the artists' hard work. Our initiative circumvents unscrupulous dealers and galleries that exploit this rich cultural heritage. This commitment to ethical practices and support for Aboriginal communities is the foundation of ART ARK®.

 



Aboriginal Artist Tina Martin Painting and ART ARK office space L Dot painting specialist, Tina Napangardi Martin R ART ARK, Launceston, Tasmania

Aboriginal Art is rich and diverse. Explore these articles as a great opportunity to deepen your understanding and appreciation of this rich culture and its art forms:

X Aboriginal Art Symbol Aboriginal Art History

Explore the history of Aboriginal art, tracing its journey from ancient rock paintings, through the impacts of colonisation, to contemporary times.

Concentric Circles Aboriginal Art Symbol What is The Dreaming

Learn about The Dreaming, a foundational concept in Aboriginal art and culture that explains the interconnectedness of life and the spiritual world.

Meeting Place Aboriginal Art Symbol Aboriginal Art Symbols

Explore the diverse symbols in Aboriginal art, each embedded with deep cultural meanings and integral to the broader narrative of Aboriginal traditions.

Aboriginal Dot Painting Icon Aboriginal Dot Painting

Understand the emergence of Aboriginal dot painting, an art form that uses intricate dot patterns to tell stories and preserve ancient traditions.

 


Behind every dot, symbol, and artwork is an artist, sharing their culture and working to support themselves and their family.

Aboriginal Artist Margaret Lewis Painting her Mina Mina Dreaming

25 Famous Aboriginal Artists You Should Know

The following list introduces 25 famous Aboriginal artists, whose works have significantly contributed to both Australian and international art scenes.

Aboriginal Artist Margaret Gallagher Painting her Emu Dreaming 3

88 Aboriginal and TSI Art Centres to Discover

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Centres are vital to Indigenous communities across Australia, serving as dynamic spaces for cultural preservation, economic development, and social connection.

Aboriginal Artist Walter Brown Painting his Tingari Cycle Dreaming

What We Mean by Ethical Aboriginal Art

We hammer on about ethics because there's a flip side that's not so rosy when buying Aboriginal Art.

Aboriginal Artist Jeani Lewis Painting her Mina Mina Dreaming 2

Aboriginal Art Authenticity: What It Really Means

Authentic Aboriginal Art is a term that gets thrown around a lot as a catch phrase, mostly by unethical dealers, but if you scratch the surface, it means something.


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Aboriginal Art shares an insight into a rich and strong culture

 

Here are some questions you may be asking about Aboriginal Art.

 



Q: What is Aboriginal Art?

 

A: Aboriginal Art is a unique visual expression representing the traditions, stories, and histories of Australian Aboriginal Peoples.

 


 

Q: Who are Famous Aboriginal Artists?

 

A: Aboriginal artists, through their diverse and dynamic practices, not only share stories from the Dreamtime but also navigate the complexities of contemporary Indigenous identity, colonial history, and cultural preservation. From the pioneering watercolours of Albert Namatjira to the groundbreaking contemporary practices of artists like Tracey Moffatt and Richard Bell, please discover our list of 25 Famous Aboriginal Artists you Should Know

 



Q: How has contemporary Aboriginal Art evolved?

 

A: While rooted in ancient traditions, contemporary Aboriginal Art now embraces various mediums, techniques, and themes, reflecting both ancestral stories and modern challenges. Learn the History of Aboriginal Art.

 



Q: What is the Dreamtime?

 

A: The Dreamtime, often called "The Dreaming," refers to the ancestral spiritual stories, events, and symbols central to understanding the world from the Aboriginal perspective. Understanding the Dreamtime.

 



Q: What does the use of dots signify in Aboriginal Art?

 

A: Dot painting is a traditional Aboriginal Art form as seen in ancient rock paintings. Dots can represent stars, surround waterholes, or share other patterns of nature, while also concealing sacred information from the uninitiated. More About Aboriginal Dot Paintings

 



Q: What is the significance of symbols in Aboriginal Art?

 

A: Symbols in Aboriginal Art are a visual language that encapsulates stories, traditions, and knowledge of the land. Each symbol holds specific meanings, often representing elements of nature, ancestral tales, or spiritual concepts. These symbols allow complex stories to be conveyed visually, ensuring the preservation and transmission of cultural narratives across generations. Learn About Aboriginal Art Symbols 

 



 

Aboriginal Art Regions

 

 

Aboriginal Art has significant regional variations which reflect the unique cultural identities and artistic expressions of different Aboriginal language groups across the continent. Historically, Australian Aboriginal peoples had three main forms of communicating — storytelling, songs, and visual communication through painting, drawing, and the use of ceremonial design. Without a written language, future generations, beyond generational learning, largely depended on the wide breadth of Aboriginal Art to communicate and understand past practices and culture.

 

Across Australia, more than 250 Indigenous Australian languages existed at the time of colonisation, each with its own dialects and language nuances based on geographical location. Similarly, Aboriginal Art varied widely from region to region, reflecting the diverse cultures and traditions of these communities.

Aboriginal Languages Map

 

Unlike Western Art, Aboriginal artworks were not as concerned with adhering to a particular artistic style. Rather, artists were tasked as the great record keepers of their day, arguably creating some of the most honest and authentic art out of pure necessity.

 

While certain symbols depicted in Aboriginal Art could only be decoded by experienced elders within the community, these pieces stand to be excellent visual references of what life was like for Aboriginal peoples. Through carefully examining Aboriginal Art, we are continually exposed to a unique insight into the varied landscape of Australia and the creators and culture of each artist.

 

Aboriginal Art Regions Map

The Kimberley Aboriginal Art

The Kimberley is a unique area located in the far North-West corner of Australia. Well known for its beautiful earthy Aboriginal paintings. Rock art in the region dates back at least 30,000 years with images painted, engraved, or sculpted with beeswax and native grass. Though most Kimberley artists have transitioned to canvas-based pieces, the characteristically ochre tones and minimalist designs still remain as motifs in modern pieces today.

Wandjina spirits are celebrated in the region of Derby. A mix of vibrant acrylic paintings is shared across four language groups in Fitzroy Crossing. Well-known ochre(ground earth pigments) paintings are produced in Warmun and Kununarra.

The ochre tones are reflective of the rich, iron-based Australian soil in the region which have been used by First Nation people for centuries. For example, the ancient rock paintings of Gwion Gwion figures dating back to 18,000 years ago utilised these methods.

One of the most prominent artists in the Warmun and Waringarri region, Rover Thomas, was a descendant of both Wangkajunga and Kukatja peoples. Thomas was eventually displaced from his desert homeland, leading him to become an overseer of the paintings produced by the Krill Krill ceremony.

These paintings depict the understated conflict between white settlers and aboriginal peoples. Thomas himself began painting and used map-like, minimalist imagery to further emphasise the often stark politics of the era.

Mowanjum community depicts Wandjinas in their art with ochre tones, documenting the implicit laws of the communities and the importance of preserving the created earth. These paintings give a deep insight into the complex current and past societies of the region, through the expression of the creator and the settlers.

You’ll also find vibrant, free-flowing acrylics in Fitzroy Crossing, a meeting place of desert and river people. Lively desert artists make up the majority here, painting images of country they were forced to leave.

 

Central Desert Aboriginal Art

Situated in the middle of Australia’s Northern Territory, the Central Desert is largely made up of Warlpiri speaking communities. Central Desert Art, originated from women of the region, who decorated various handmade items and on wooden boards. This application was partly a result of anthropologists Françoise Dussart and Meredith Morris’s encouragement in the early 1980s, but art from the region has roots that run back to 1971 in close-by Papunya. The Central Desert region of Australia is most famous today for the vibrant acrylic paintings being produced.

The iconography used in Central Desert paintings emphasises the importance in places of cosmological significance which correlate to practical sites relating to the activity of both ancestral beings and Aboriginal people between these sites. The emphasis reflects the semi-nomadic existence required to live in a desert environment.

Art from the Central Desert shares the spiritual ties between earth, animals, and the nature surrounding it. One prominent example of Çentral Dersert Art is the various water Dreamings throughout this country. These paintings share the power of the crucial life source that is water and appear often.

Aboriginal Symbols that are used in Central Desert paintings are not singular in their meaning but change according to the context in which they are placed. Concentric circles, for example, could represent the site of a fire, camping grounds, or a place to obtain drinking water.

Learn more about Aboriginal Art Symbols

 

Western Desert Aboriginal Art

The Western Desert, also known as the “Western Cultural Bloc” is a vast region that occupies over 600,000 kilometres—roughly 1/3 of Australia’s landmass. Throughout the stretches of seemingly uninhabitable land, numerous Aboriginal communities have found ways to survive and continue thousands-of-year-old communities and culture. Today, there are a high number of art centres all across the region, producing some of Australia’s finest examples of Aboriginal Art.

The beginning of the Western Desert painting movement was linked to an Australian schoolteacher, Geoffrey Bardon in the enforced community of Pupunya from 1971. Learn the History of Aboriginal Art.

Bardon helped to cultivate a commercial Western Desert Aboriginal Art Movement which later empowered Aboriginal peoples, like the Pintupi, to return to their traditional homelands.

Stretching from Pupunya to as far as the Western coast of Australia, the paintings from the Western Desert region are diverse. Ochre tones and a common line and circle motif are well known in the communities of Kiwikurra and Kintore

 

APY Lands Aboriginal Art

In the northwest corner of South Australia lies the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara region, sometimes referred to as the APY lands. Though sparsely populated, it’s home to roughly twenty communities that have become one of the greatest sources of Aboriginal Art.

Since 1921, the APY Lands has primarily served as an Aboriginal Reserve, but its transformation into a place filled with Aboriginal artists didn’t start until the Ernabella Mission was created in 1937 by the Presbyterian Church at Pukatja. In 1948, Ernabella started the longest-running Aboriginal art centre in Australia, which is still in operation today.

APY Aboriginal Art centres represent over 400 artists working at Tjala Arts, Mimili Maku Artists, Iwantja Artists, Tjungu Palya Artists, and Kaltjiti Artists. The APY Lands have created distinctive and colour-filled artworks that express Anangu connections to culture and Country.

Today, the APY Lands is known for its vibrant and symbolic acrylic paintings. These beautiful paintings feature a wide variety of methods; traditional dot paintings contrast and mediate modern, wide paint strokes — sometimes in conjunction with one another.

Artists from APY lands use their modern resources to celebrate and capture the Dreaming as a testament to their commitment to preserving tradition while still embracing new technology.

 

Arnhem Land Aboriginal Art

Situated on the northern edge of Australia’s Northern Territory, Arnhem Land has been an important Aboriginal reserve since 1931. Though isolated, it’s one of the largest in the country to this day. It’s a place filled with prolific Aboriginal artists who draw upon their rich cultural background for inspiration.

Arnhem Land is often defined by a rocky landscape that dominates the region, tropical beaches, and a tropical climate. Aboriginal communities traditionally fashioned houses using bark, which later transitioned into bark art, which continues as a practice today.

Northeast Arnhem Land is home to Yolngu people, one of the largest Aboriginal groups in Australia, and one who has succeeded in maintaining a vigorous traditional indigenous culture. Malays and Macassans are believed to have had contact with the coastal Aboriginal groups and traded with them for many years prior to the European settlement.

Aboriginal people of the region focus on maintaining a traditional technique, with an emphasis on fine cross-hatching in natural earth pigments on bark and Larrakitj and fine weaving. 

 

Tiwi Islands Aboriginal Art

The Tiwi Islands are situated approximately 100 km off the coast of Darwin. The two largest islands, Melville Island, (approx. 5,800 square km) and Bathurst Island (approx. 2,200 square km) house the majority of the Tiwi people.

The islands are located right along the tropical zone. Its three seasons have a major influence on the Tiwi people, and in turn, their artwork. These seasons are typically symbolised in three ways: smoke, which represents the dry season, cicada’s song, which represents the gradual coming of the rainy season, and tropical storms, which represent the rainy season.

While the Tiwi Islands Artists are known for preserving their ancient culture, they are also known to embrace innovation. For example, island inhabitants were one of the first to experiment with the printmaking process as a new form of artistic communication. This paved the way for intricate weavings and fabrics, which still remains an important part of the Tiwi economy.

Notably, each island within this area has a distinct set of artistic symbols. The Tiwi Islands can be divided into 9 different subsections, each with its own animal totems. Each inhabitant is usually tied to a specific totem, speaking to the important intersection of art and governing culture of the region.

 

Far North Queensland Aboriginal Art

Spanning a timeline of over 40,000 years, the Aboriginal population of Far North Queensland has produced some of the most intriguing rock art in the world. Primarily concentrated in the south-eastern area of Cape York, the traditional Aboriginal lands of the Guugu Yimithirr, Kuku Yalanji, and Kuku Thaypan peoples, and in the Laura region, these sites serve as a collective gallery of ancient art that depicts a story of life thousands of years ago. They’re composed of engravings, stencils, and rock paintings of various kinds and throughout different time periods.

Ornately decorated “Rainforest Shields” were as informative as they were protective. These shields were used in duels and large social gatherings. They are often decorated with symbols central to native life, such as fish, tools, game, and weather.

“Camp Dog” sculptures are also common creations these days, usually crafted out of traditional milkwood trees of the region. These sculptures show respect for the companion and hope for dogs to reach a dreaming state.

 

Torres Strait Islander Art

The Torres Strait Islands are situated off the northernmost coastal edge of Queensland and are populated by Torres Strait Islander Peoples. There are over 274 that comprise the area, which was an important stop along the trade and exploration routes to and from the region.

Across the Torres Strait Islands, there is a large breath of ornate print-making depicting daily life, important stories, and foreign trade interactions constantly coming into contact with Native peoples. 

While much of the art of the region was communicated orally through song or dance, the deep appreciation for the sea, sky, and waterways is clearly evident through printed works.  

The Torres Strait artists are also the only known makers of turtle shell masks. These masks were predominately used in funeral ceremonies as a way to honour the deceased. Turtle shell masks are still commonly constructed today, and many artists of the region see their creation as a way to reconnect with the traditions and cultural values of the generations before them.

 

Pilbara Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal peoples from the Pilbara region initially resisted the artistic medium to express their culture in a siimlar way to the growing Western Desert Art Movement. The thought behind this was that by creating an exchange in cultural knowledge, there was also a risk of devaluing their heritage. Traditionally, the Pilbara people are the owners of the Fortescue River region in the Pilbara.

At first glimpse, the surface of Pilbara is an arid, grim land that is beaten down by constant powerful sunlight with little moisture. However, for people with an indigenous understanding of the area, it’s also a home with concealed pools of fresh water, and a diverse weather cycle of its own. For locals, their Creation stories tell tales of, sprouting seeds, budding flowers, and blooming plants after precipitation. Martu artists for example, draw inspiration from the vast salt lakes in their country with free flowing brush strokes.

Today, art from this region shares an ancient culture, juxtaposed by the modern history of mining for iron in the Pilbara, which its economy currently relies on. 

Aboriginal Art serves as a unique language that is as mysterious as it is informative. We continue to learn deeply about the past and present through the raw depiction of life throughout Australia’s native lands.

 

 

Ready to explore the beauty of Aboriginal art in your own space?

Let's start here, with our beautiful collection of authentic artworks from Central Australia's desert communities. Shop our Aboriginal Dot Paintings collection and add a piece of this rich cultural heritage to your home.