History and Contemporary Indigenous Art

Amazing History Of Indigenous Art

Australia’s Paintings from First Nation’s People to Now

An Ancient Aboriginal Rock Painting from: gettyimages.com

The ancestors of Aboriginal Australians are believed to have arrived in Australia as early as 60,000 years ago, and evidence of Indigenous Australian art in Australia can be traced back at least 30,000 years. Examples of ancient Aboriginal rock artworks can be found throughout the continent. wikipedia.org

Aboriginal Rock Art Wllinynga (Cave Hill) from: nma.gov.au

Rock art is a vital part of First Nation’s cultures in Australia, and offers a window onto how humans lived and thought on this continent from the earliest period of human habitation. Bill Neidjie

Our story is in the land. It is written in those sacred places. Kakudu man

What is the oldest Aboriginal rock art in Australia?

A Kangaroo
Australian scientists have discovered the country’s oldest known rock art — a 17,300-year-old painting of a kangaroo. The artwork measuring 2m (6.5ft) was painted in red ochre on the ceiling of a rock shelter. It was found in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, known for its Aboriginal rock paintings. Esther Fleming, 6 July 2020

It is important to each and everyone to know who we are as Australians. The first stepping stone to knowing who we are is to know our history. In being able to do this we need to have a mechanism. Whereby we can locate a way to find what was left behind by our ancestors. And, just what is that mechanism you may ask? One way is the Rock Art paintings that our First Nation’s people have left on cave walls and other locations, recording their lives and ceremonial rituals for us to learn from.

Archeologists date First Nation’s People-Aboriginal culture- may go back as far as 60,000 to 80,000 years. To me, this is simply mind-blowing. Compare this for a moment to White Settlement which merely dates back to 1788, then it truly is astounding. When as an artist in oils on canvas think my artwork will last a lifetime. I Never considered they would last for thousands of years. That would indeed be something!

Finding out just how long ago did Aborigines first start telling their tales as visual art??? Well, there is no clear answer. Many rock art paintings depicting hands and ceremonial rites date back more than 30,000 years. As ancient Australian Aboriginal people did not have a formal written language these Rock Paintings were their means of oral communication. Yet, these Rock Art paintings indeed had even greater significance.

What stories did some rock paintings tell? Some were created by the artist simply placing their hand on the rock and tracing an outline. Did you do that when you were young, is it still there? Probably not! Other rock art is more complex and has many animals, people, and weapons in each telling tales of hunts. Other rock paintings tell the tales of ceremonial rituals. Some of these actual rituals have faded into the mists of time. The Rock Art which portrays these ceremonies still lingers on. Without these time capsules, these moments in time would be lost. When you compare First Nation’s Rock Art to our ads on TV, I for one would rather have the Rock Art every time.

Rock Art is a vital part of First Nation’s culture in Australia, and offers a window on to how humans lived and thought on this continent from ther earliest period of human habitation. Bill Neidjie

What was the actual need for Rock Art paintings? The lacking of formal written language. Yet still needing to communicate their culture and religious stories these First Nation people used Rock Art paintings as one means of oral expression. This is where the Rock Art truly performed. It started as soon as these people landed on our continent’s soil. These ancient people, as indeed all ancient cultures, had their sacred stories/rites to strengthen their family and community life. They needed the means to broadcast these stories from their ancestors. Their Dreamtime story also needed to be related to future generations ensuring it would retain its value and not be lost. These invaluable stories and rituals remain throughout Australia for us to stand before in ‘awe’ in the form of Rock Art.

As for me, I prefer First Nation’s Rock Art to text messaging every time. Do you not agree?

Can you imagine the ceremony that may have accompanied the creation of each Rock Art painting? The gathering of the community as the story was being told. The Dreamtime Story being passed on as wide-eyed children watched on so that it would be valued and revered. The gathering of the tools and colours needed to create the intricate Rock Art that the creator never would have envisioned would outlast him by thousands of years. Not just popping into the local art store. But, actually manually making each colour from nature. This in itself was passed on to him by his elders. He then will pass this expertise to his children, and so on.

Can you picture the pride on the creator’s face when the Rock Art was complete and the Community Elder was indeed pleased? Or, the passing on of Communal Hunting traditions in this fashion that was way past others for that time in man’s history. I truly believe that our Indigenous family have a right to be proud of their heritage, which is remembered in such a unique fashion for the world to see and value.

If I were to ask — and where can I find examples of First Nation’s paintings? Rock Art can be located all around our vast nation. Our First Nation’s Rock Art allows us to step back into their history for a moment to view their culture and family life. Examples of Aboriginal Rock Art are unique depictions of how their communities were changing around them. These long-ago handpainted stories without words illustrate how they dealt with these changes.

Do these ancient people have anything in common with twenty-first century Australians? One thing that these ancient people and we have in common is the need to feed and clothe our families. Archeologists agree with the prominence of animals and fish in some Rock Art deals with hunting/fishing and other community established ways.

Image of Aboriginal Rock Art from: australiangeographic.com.au

Storytelling in this manner allowed for traditions and rites to be passed from one generation to the next. I imagine that ceremonies and oral storytelling would also be involved. That is what I see!! Fires blazing — ceremonial dances performed!! All part of community life. Unfortunately lost in the annals of time. I know my handprint will not be located on a rock somewhere in Australia in a few thousand years. Digital pictures only last where there is an electricity source, sadly.

What changed when Europeans arrived on Australian soil? When Australia was colonised by Europeans in 1788 a new form of painting was introduced. Being of a scientific nature it was originally used to categorise botanical and other natural information. This was quickly followed by landscapes that mirrored their subjects as Australia was so completely different from the artist’s native country. Right up to the twentieth century where contemporary art took on a more European flavour.

Artists began to turn Australian myths, legends and lifestyles to depict the changing national identity. Richard Tarrant

Aboriginal art is a gift to all living beings. As a timeless expression of man’s relationship that exists around him or her. Aborignial art is, above all, a teaching and learning experience. The Aboriginal People regard everything within the universe with reverence and respect. kohliving.com

What does Indigenous and non-Indigenous art have to tell Australia? Both Aboriginal and contemporary painting are part of the overall orchestra of Australian art. Art as a whole has an immense influence on both the individual, their family and Australian society as a whole. Paintings are a form of storytelling without words. They can shape and influence a person’s views and at times values. I believe it cannot be underestimated the importance paintings have on society’s self-expression and meaning.

How do paintings shape Australia’s identity? Paintings help define and negotiate who we are, what we believe, what we value and what we aspire to. The arts, especially paintings, inspire Australians — artists and viewers — and help us to express ourselves to others.

Art is the expression of our inner selves — Paintings can say what we cannot say in words.

Artists don’t make objects. Artists make mythologies.

The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history. Robert Rauschenberg

No heirloom of humankind captures the past as do art and language. Theodore Bikel

How do paintings tell a story without words? All paintings are a picture of a definitive moment in time and place. The artist’s purpose is to give that time and place meaning. Thus, the artist is a storyteller without words. Unfolding a specific drama that is happening in a location of his/her choosing. From the mindset of the beholder, a painting has the capacity for contemplation and inspiration. The opportunity for the viewer to express him or herself is expanded merely by being in the presence of a painting, thus finding more meaning in life.

How can we as a nation work to maintain Australian art culture? To ensure that both Aboriginal and Contemporary paintings flourish well into Australia’s future we as a united society must respect our artists. Aboriginal and non-Indigenous artists must be valued and permitted to continue to tell their stories. We as a society must respect the artist and those who appreciate their artwork, cultural background and ethnicity.

Fortunately, we are beginning to recognize just how important art, and in particular paintings, is to our lives and the life of our community. We value paintings in “every aspect of our lives. (APO 2000)

I, as an artist, feel the importance of paintings as an expression of oneself is vital. Paintings are a form of self-expression for each individual for his/her thoughts and desires. Yet, I feel it is even deeper than that. Paintings are a means of sharing the way a person experiences their particular world and sharing it with their loved ones and others in their community. For many, paintings are an expression or an extension of their personality. In other words, the specific style reflects who they are in an intimate and real way. A personal statement of who they are, again without the need for words. It is this intimate extension of each individual’s personality that a painting allows that cannot be faithfully communicated by mere words.

Paintings are a form of self-expression going even deeper for our Indigenous family. For these people, Rock Art, and other forms of visual art, are about how they connect to the land and find belonging.

Art, for our people, is not just a piece, in terms of a western concept. Art, for us, is our lore and custom design are a foundation of who we are as a sovereigh people. Bill Neidjie

Paintings, thus creative expression, help an individual to form a strong bond with their local community. The local community also benefits from creating a genuine Aboriginal painting that may also relate to their history. As well as the community benefits from enjoying the completed artwork. And, when sold the community benefits economically.

The creation of a genuine Aboriginal painting allows the artist and the local community to find true meaning in their lives. This is achieved by the artists and members of their local community gathering together around the creation of these pieces of original art. Thus “fostering connections between individuals and leading to feelings of belonging and engagement.” (Health Department, 2000)

When legitimate Aboriginal paintings are truly acknowledged and valued by the wider Australian community than members of the artist’s community also find meaning. Thus, the Aboriginal community feels valued and knows the expression through the cultural paintings has the potential for healing social boundaries.

To the Indigenous people of Australian society, paintings are more than merely appreciating their aesthetic value. To both individual Aboriginal people and their local community, a painting involves so much more. To Indigenous Australians all bona fide Aboriginal paintings:

involves all aspects of their life and considered sacred to the certain identity or background it has come from. indigenousart.com

The creation and appreciation of paintings in contemporary Australian society give meaning to our lives in a variety of ways. No matter what style of painting it may be. Paintings permit the artist and the viewers an opportunity to be brought into the light of another’s perspective. The artist had one outlook when creating the artwork. The spectator, is a completely different person, in an unrelated time and place. Thus, their thoughts and emotions stimulated by this specific painting will in themselves, be exclusive.

Art in all its diversification, notably paintings, today gives both individuals and society as a whole a means of self-expression. The artist of contemporary paintings in the twenty-first century is still living and can express his/her identity through contemporary art and pass it on to Australian society, and indeed the world. Contemporary Australian artists now have the ability and the opportunity to reflect on the complex issues that are going on around them and find meaning in their lives. Australian artists do indeed have a real possibility to influence and shape Australia’s future.

Australian paintings allow artists and viewers a channel of self-expression and the possibility to give their lives meaning.

When one ponders on just how long paintings have existed in Australia both as Aboriginal Rock Art and now as Contemporary Paintings, one is amazed. Paintings throughout this long history have allowed for self-expression both for the artist and their local community.

In addition, paintings have brought a true sense of community. Bonding a true meaning between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people must be acknowledged.



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Diane Markey

Diane Markey

Professional Artist. I write stories about Inspiration, Love and Life Lessons. Written from my heart and from life experiences. Qualified Personal Counsellor.