SorrenCob Curator David Elliott once said “The art reflects our time, it is about our culture.” The statement rings true on many levels. Artists draw their inspiration from their environment, their peers and their experiences and art becomes the mirror that reflects our society. In its whole, it encompasses our goals, our fears, our tamest and wildest ideas. However, this truth that Elliott and other before him expressed is not exclusive to our times or our ways, it remains the same no matter how far we gaze in the many folds of our long history. It rings true now and it stays true even when we look at art for insight into the aboriginal culture. More aboriginal art can be viewed on http://www.aboriginal-art-australia.com
One might make the mistake of considering aboriginal art to be limited, a mere glimpse into the minds of a people with a primitive lifestyle but their art proves the opposite. Animism is ubiquitous and it manifests itself through what we now call “Dreaming” or “dreamtimes”, a notion that finds its correspondent in the native american tribal society up to a fault. This notion refers to a timeless place and to an idea of oneness coupled with the immortality of the soul (that we encounter in other religions as well). The soul, as thought by aboriginal people inhabits the dreaming after death (as do their ancestors) but for a live individual to enter this place, an altered state of consciousness is sometimes needed.
We can then find The Dreaming represented in art form, from the dreams and visions of the aboriginal people to stone and tree bark and skin. In the aboriginal culture painting and engraving were the choice ways in which to materialize the symbolism of dreamtimes. They used the natural earth pigment of ochre and applied it to surfaces for the largest part of their history. In the beginnings of the 1900’s, their style changed with the introduction of watercolors by white settlers. Their artists migrated from the use of symbols to the painting of entire landscapes depicting their often barren lands and later to murals. However this hadn’t been the only change recorded in aboriginal art. The latter diversified and evolved long before any contact with settlers was made.
Prior to owning better means of creating their art, the aboriginals relied heavily on symbolism, devising an alphabet of sorts to be read by others witnessing their work as dreamtime stories were kept alive (as natural for a tribal society) by way of mouth. Their representations were often composed of arrows, straight and curved lines and circles. For example, a series of concentric circles represented a tree or a campfire or an entire village, two parallel arrows pointed downwards showed kangaroo tracks, a line curbed upwards meant shelter while a source of water was painted as a group of circles of varying diameters. These of course are the most crude representations that later evolved into more intricate patterns.
Perhaps it was due to our trend of putting aside the most realistic of art forms in the not-so-distant past and our determination to find meaning first and foremost as aboriginal culture found its way to a wider audience through its art, a climb that began somewhere in the 1970’s. By the 1980’s the aboriginals had an artists organisation to further acknowledge their work and protect their interests. By the time the Sydney Olympics took place, their art found larger and larger audiences. The level of exposure that contemporary aboriginal art gained for itself has made people look deeper into its history, its ochre based paintings and most importantly, its culture.