Indigenous art provides important economic benefits. When the art market peaked in 2007, Indigenous art was estimated to generate some A$400-500 million a year. This supported 110 Indigenous art centres and about 5,000 art workers (artists).
How Indigenous fashion designers are taking control and challenging the notion of the heroic, lone genius
Indigenous Australians have influenced modern Australian dress since first contact. From possum skin cloaks and booka kangaroo capes to shell necklaces in Tasmania, Europeans have been fascinated with Indigenous materials, skills and aesthetics. They have stolen, purchased, borrowed and worn them for more than 200 years.
Artefacts in Kakadu national park have been dated between 65,000 and 80,000 years old, extending likely occupation of area by thousands of years.
Richard Bell, Scientia E Metaphysica (Bell’s Theorem) 2003, Acrylic on canvas, 240 x 540cm. Milani Gallery. In 2002 Bell decried how the white-controlled Aboriginal art industry privileged art from remote areas as more “authentic” than that from urban areas. Vernon Ah Kee, another successful artist in Milani’s gallery, agrees: urban Aborigines “are as much Aboriginal as anybody else” and, adds Bell, “we paid the biggest price” for colonisation.
For over a thousand generations Aboriginal people made no distinction between art and craft. Art was, and still is, a way of life and as much about function as it is about beauty and form. Artistic forms continue to be used to give Aboriginal people skills, knowledge and practical tools to survive, thrive and manage the continent of Australia.