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Aboriginal Art. by test. Art, Land and the Dreaming. Art is a central part of Aboriginal life and is intimately connected to land, law and religious belief. Connection to a person's home land is deeply felt.

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Art, Land and the Dreaming

Art is a central part of Aboriginal life and is intimately connected to land, law and religious belief. Connection to a person's home land is deeply felt.

Aboriginal art takes many forms. Traditionally it was made for purely cultural reasons and was only able to be created or viewed by people initiated to the proper level of knowledge or understanding. More recently, there has emerged work that has been made consciously to be seen by the non-initiated or for commercial purposes. However, irrespective of whether the art is for private ceremonial purposes or is for the public, it remains inspired by the traditional marks and symbols from the Dreaming.

traditional aboriginal art
Traditional Aboriginal Art
  • Aboriginal peoples have been producing visual art for many thousands of years. It takes many forms - ancient engravings and rock art, designs in sand or on the body, exquisite fibre craft and wooden sculptures, bark paintings and more recently an explosion of brilliant contemporary painting.
rock art
Rock Art
  • Most artworks in the distant past were made with materials that have not survived the passing of time. Rock art however has left rich and enduring evidence of human presence in Australia for at least 30 000 years. Aboriginal Australians believe they have been here since the Dreamtime.
art and aboriginal society
Art and Aboriginal Society
  • Traditional Aboriginal societies vary greatly across Australia but all have social structures and systems that organise life and experience and explain the universe and the place of people in it. Art is part of these systems and the making of artworks by Aboriginal artists is almost always connected to Dreaming stories. The ownership of Dreaming stories is determined by complex social and kinship structures and paintings can only be produced by those who are acknowledged to have the right to do so. But this does not mean that artists are rigidly bound by convention in their expressions of these stories - as the great flowering of innovation in contemporary Aboriginal art shows.
aboriginal art and landscape
Aboriginal Art and Landscape
  • Nearly all Aboriginal art can be related to landscape and some paintings and designs do represent explicitly the physical relationship between different features of the landscape. However, Aboriginal paintings should be seen primarily as maps of conceptual relationships that influence the way the landscape is seen and understood. When Aboriginal paintings do represent specific features of landscape, they show them in their mythical rather than their physical relationship to one another.
contemporary aboriginal art
Contemporary Aboriginal Art
  • Since the early 1970s, Aboriginal contemporary art has grown rapidly and with amazing diversity and vigour - to the extent that critic Robert Hughes has described it as the 'last great art movement of the 20th Century'. The beginning of this growth can be traced to a school building in Papunya, a remote community in the Western Desert. The cultural pride expressed at Papunya has since spread widely in Aboriginal communities across Australia.

As well as its essential spiritual and symbolic character, Aboriginal art increasingly has a social and political dimension. GalarrwuyYunupingu, leader of the Gumatj people, has clearly expressed the importance of art to contemporary Aboriginal culture:

We are painting, as we have always done, to demonstrate our continuing link with our country and the rights and responsibilities we have to it. We paint to show the rest of the world that we own this country and the country owns us. Our painting is a political act.


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