From carvings dating 65,000 years old to digital media and photography in the modern day, Aboriginal Art is expressed and captured in a variety of ways. Not only does this assortment of mediums give us a look at the details and intricacy of the tribal designs, but it also gives an insight into the unbroken tradition of art making for Aboriginal people.
The earliest kinds of permanent Aboriginal Art are in the form of rock painting and carving. Some are estimated to be more than 40,000 years old, showing extinct animals and megafauna as well as important historical events. Designs were etched into rock in different ways, depending on the mineral composition. Stone arrangements, typically consisting of stones about 12 inches in size, were used as a form of ceremonial art. The patterns they were laid in extended over a considerable area, creating an area in which initiation and rites of passage could occur – boys becoming men, for example.
Bark painting is a popular art medium for Aboriginal artists. Intended originally as transient pieces for instructional and ceremonial art, in the 1980s the outside art world declared it ‘fine art’ and these pieces were sought after and preserved. It is a relatively modern medium despite the designs being ancient, with the earliest surviving painting dating to the 19th century. Evidence has been discovered to suggest artists would paint on bark inside their shelters, decorating their home with unique tribal designs.
Painting with natural pigments has a long history in Aboriginal Art. The introduction of Western acrylics, crayons, and watercolors by missionaries and other non-native visitors gave indigenous artists a more permanent method of expressing their Dreamings, ties to land and cultural ancestry.
Though wood carvings are seen less often, they’re an essential part of Aboriginal culture. Using wood, a sharp stone, wire, and fire, the indigenous people would create intricate designs and patterns, usually in the form of animals. Historically, some of these were traded to Europeans for goods, but largely they were used to aid in storytelling, as props to accompany tales of totemic ancestry.
Fibrecraft plays an important role in Aboriginal Art history. Fibers made from bark, different kinds of grasses, even hair spun into long threads of yarn, were all used to create art, both practical and aesthetic. Baskets, bags, fiber sculptures, floor mats, fishnets, and wall hangings are woven with a variety of fibers, some dyed in earthy colors and used to create skirts and loincloth-type coverings for use in ceremonies. Each community has a distinct style and technique for weaving.
Modern Aboriginal artists have embraced new technology, using mediums such as photography, digital design, image projection, and dance to create artwork. These new pieces bring together modernity and ancestry in a stunning display, continuing the rich, ongoing tradition of Aboriginal Art.