Aboriginal Australia is a large and complex nation with hundreds of traditional languages each of which can have several dialects. Each tribe’s boundaries and population has varied over time as vast changes occurred in the landscape. This has given rise to a variety of customs and art styles. Historically, Aboriginal people did not create imagery for aesthetic reasons; mark making, colours and motifs all had purpose and varied in each region. Most often they were ceremonial in purpose and were used to transmit information across the generations.
Today, it is inappropriate for a person, especially a person of Aboriginal decent, to create ‘Aboriginal Art’ out of context; meaning they do not have permission to paint a story, use particular motifs or borrow a style from country other than from where their Aboriginal family is from. The difficulty now after so much interruption to the transferring of our culture is the seeming missing historical links and information. I understand many are hungry to revive and learn more about their ancestry. This hunger should not lead people to create artwork that is copied from other places. By doing this you are disrespecting the traditional owners of that place and Aboriginal people as a whole. If you are an Aboriginal person wanting to learn about culture and art then look to your family’s country for inspiration. Connect with your elders and listen to the stories from that country. Understand why the people created the visual and performing arts. Then recreate those stories in a contemporary way: on canvas, in a script or as a sculpture. This does not make your artwork any less Aboriginal, because that is who you are, no one can take that away from you.
As a contemporary artist I create work influenced and inspired by my Aboriginal culture and traditions. It is my intention to develop concepts and visual formats that are new rather than borrowed ‘traditional’ looking techniques such as dot painting and rarrk (cross hatching). In my region we are reviving ancient techniques such as weaving swamp reeds and sewing possum skin cloaks. This is done to bring back traditional techniques that can be used to create modern artworks that convey what it is to be an Aboriginal person right now.
Two of the most iconic symbols of Australia’s Indigenous cultures are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.
The symbolic meaning of the colours is described by the flag’s designer, Mr Harold Thomas:
- Black represents the Aboriginal people of Australia
- Red represents the red earth, the red ochre and a spiritual relation to the land
- Yellow represents the Sun, the giver of life and protector.
The dhari (head dress) represents Torres Strait Island people while the five pointed star represents the 5 major island groups. The star also represents navigation, as a symbol of the seafaring culture of the Torres Strait. Each colour symbolizes an aspect of Torres Strait Islander culture.
- Green represents the land
- Blue represents the sea
- White represents peace
- Black represents the Indigenous peoples
If you would like to find out more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures visit the resources page of this website for some useful links.