Australian Aboriginal Art is the oldest unbroken tradition of art making in the world. Aboriginal people have seen the world change and incredibly, were creating artworks at a time when Mega Fauna roamed the continent.
In 2017, scientists at the Madjedbebe rock shelter dated Aboriginal habitation to at least 65,000 years ago and likely as old as 80,000 years. Ground earth pigments which were used to create Early Aboriginal Art were also discovered from this time period—proof of the art’s incredible antiquity.
With the arrival of the Europeans, more permanent artworks have been produced, from artworks on bark and carvings for missionaries in places like Yirkala in Arnhem Land to European style paintings created by acclaimed Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira in the 1930s.
The Modern Aboriginal Art Movement, also known as the Western Desert Art Movement, is widely accepted to have begun in the 1970s in the community of Papunya. However, earlier artworks pre-date this by some decades. These include the brilliant Yirkala Drawings (1947) and the Warlpiri Drawings (1953-54) in the Central Desert.
Following the successes of the Western Desert Aboriginal Artists, numerous Aboriginal Art Centres sprung up across Australia, and exciting art projects were undertaken such as the Yuendumu Doors. Prominent artists during the 1980s and 90s include Rover Thomas and Emily Kame Kngwarreye.
Aboriginal Art continues to prosper across our vast continent and Aboriginal Art mediums are varied. Ancient pigments continue to be used to create breathtaking artworks though Aboriginal Artists are equally suited to projecting images onto buildings or producing artworks in neon lights.
Sadly, since the movement began and to this day, Aboriginal Artists have been exploited and mistreated. It’s important to understand this and to always support Ethical Aboriginal Art. We must respect and celebrate Aboriginal people, their art, and the oldest continuing culture in the world.