Aboriginal Australians, also referred to as Aborigines, are people whose ancestors were indigenous to the Australian continent—that is, to mainland Australia or to the island of Tasmania. Traditional aboriginal art includes painting on natural items such as leaves, bark, and wood; using sand to “paint;” carving wood (shields, spears, boomerangs), rocks, emu egg, or shells; basket weaving; jewellery making.
In the 1970’s, artists in Australia’s Northern Territory- aboriginal people who lived in the Central and Western Desert- created various paintings that experimented with color and style and set out to tell their “dreaming stories linked to land, history and culture” (dreamtime is often used to refer to someone’s spiritual beliefs). The style came from the artists’ knowledge of ceremonial and traditional body and sand painting, and the symbols might include circles, journey lines and bird and animal tracks, all with many meanings.
My children and I viewed many examples of these paintings from Papunya and talked about how they made us feel, what they made us think of, and the colors and styles used. The kids noticed the used of circles, geometric shapes, sometimes animals, and the use of symmetric and asymmetric shapes. Also we looked at the gallery of work at Papunya Tula Artists.
Origins of Western Desert Art: Tjukurrtjanu, an exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria, demonstrates “200 of the first paintings produced at Papunya between 1971 and 1972 and also establishes the vital connection between the works of art and their sources in ephemeral designs made for use in ceremony.” Adults can read more about the Papunya Tula art movement of the Western Desert here. For those living in or visiting Australia, the National Museum of Australia (in Canberra) has an exhibit on Papunya Painting which display art pieces and also explores the lives, spiritual and secular beliefs, world views, and aspirations of the artists.
We also watched aboriginal artist Gracie Ward Napaltjarri, create a stunning masterpiece:
Finally, inspired by the art we learned about, the kids explored dot painting on their own. I put out q-tips, paint, and construction paper, and let them use their imaginations.