Historically, Australian Aboriginal people 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 and with each, dialects and language nuances were based on their geographical location, Aboriginal Art was also widely varied based on region.
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.
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 are 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 utilized 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 emphasize 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.
Further Art regions to follow.