12 Interesting Facts About Aboriginal Art

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Aboriginal art is one of the oldest types of art in the world. The Aboriginal culture dates back 60,000 to 80,000 years. Aboriginal art includes painting on leaves, wood & rock carving, sculpting, bark painting, ceremonial clothing and watercolour painting. It is also closely related to religious rituals or ceremonies. Before buying Aboriginal art continue reading below for more information.

Interesting facts about Aboriginal art

1. The origins of Aboriginal art

The Aboriginal people created one of the oldest form of artistic expression some 80,000 years ago. Initially, they used ochre (a natural clay earth pigment) to paint on rock, bark, ceremonial articles, and even their bodies. The first Aboriginal paintings were discovered in the 1930s and these paintings mostly depicted desert landscapes. In 1937, the paintings of Albert Namatjira - the famous contemporary Aboriginal artist - was featured in the first-ever exhibition of Aboriginal art in Adelaide.

2. Start of the Aboriginal art movement

In 1971, a school teacher named Geoffrey Bardon worked with Aboriginal children in Papunya, near Alice Springs. During meetings with the families, he noticed that the Aboriginal men would draw symbols in the sand when telling stories. He motivated them to draw and paint these stories onto modern surfaces like canvas or board. This paved the way for the famous Aboriginal Art Movement. Since then, Australian contemporary Aboriginal art is considered one the most exciting contemporary art forms of the 20th century.

3. Tribal Aboriginal groups

Even before the arrival of Europeans in Australia, it had always been quite a diverse country. The Torres Strait Islands in Australia are inhabited by the Torres Strait Islanders and also the Aboriginal peoples. Each of them has their own distinctive culture, language, customs and laws. They are some of the world's oldest surviving cultural groups. So, it's not surprising that different regions of the Aboriginal community use different artistic media.

4. Aboriginal art is more than simple art

Another interesting fact about Aboriginal art is that the creators (artists) don’t believe in creating art just for the sake of it. Instead, their artwork depicts the lifestyle of the Aboriginal people, their culture, festivities and day-to-day lives.

Apart from being a medium of expression, the Aboriginal people also used this platform to retain their individuality and sacred knowledge.

After the colonisation of Australia, the Aboriginal people felt threatened and believed that their culture and spiritual knowledge would slowly become extinct. To preserve this knowledge for the next generation, they created an intricate creative system which was the beginning of the famous Aboriginal dot paintings.

Some people believed that the dots were intentionally made over holy symbolic depictions to protect their sacred knowledge from outsiders.

5. Creators of Aboriginal art

An interesting Aboriginal art fact is that only indigenous Australians can paint Aboriginal art. Non-indigenous artists can’t represent Aboriginal art in any form. Plus, the location of the indigenous artist dictates the look of the painting.

Aboriginal artists also need permission to paint particular stories that they have not inherited. In other words, an Aboriginal artist cannot paint a story that does not belong to their tribe or passed down to them through their family.

If an artist wants to paint a story concerning sacred or historical information, they must first get permission from the respective tribe. Each artist must stick to the story and use the artistic techniques from that tribe, they can’t deviate from it.

6. Symbols in Aboriginal art

Aboriginal artwork is a form of visual storytelling, and each tribe has different meaningful symbols. Some iconic symbols used in Aboriginal art are eagle feet, waterholes and digging sticks. These symbols are seen across multiple tribes. Even the colours used for the paintings have meanings and the tribal people understand what they relate to. In most cases, the blue colour represents the ocean, whereas warm tones of brown and orange represent the earth.

7. U-shape symbol

Most primary schools in Australia teach the basics of Aboriginal art. One of the most common symbols used in the artwork is a U-shaped symbol. This aboriginal art print is a representation of a person. Where did this meaning derive from?

In the pre-white settlement period (or even during), the indigenous people drew symbols in the sand. When a person sits in the sand and stands up, they leave behind a U-shape imprint, and this is the theory that most galleries & museums adopted to explain the U-shaped symbol in Aboriginal art.

8. Use of natural colours

The colours used for Aboriginal artwork was sourced from local materials. They'd utilise ochre or iron-clay pigment to produce yellow, red and white; charcoal for black. Other natural colours adopted were saltbush mauves, sage greens and smoke greys. During the mid-1980s, most artists chose a range of modern colours, and bright desert paintings started to arrive on the market. The choice of colour utilised in the painting is a signature of the painter and the tribe. For instance, Papunya Tula uses soft earth colours, while the Western Desert Communities use strong primary colours.

9. No written language

Since Aboriginals had no traditional written language, art was essential to the Aboriginal culture to tell their stories visually, making it a mode of communication for the people.

There are still approximately 500 Aboriginal languages with each tribe having a distinct dialect. Just like the dialects differ, so do the art techniques, as they are reflections of the individual artists (and their tribe). This ensures that no two Aboriginal artworks are ever identical.

10. Art to teach younger generations

These paintings are a visual story often used by Aboriginal people for passing the sacred knowledge to the younger generation. The explanation of the symbols (iconography) in the artwork can vary according to the audience. That is, the story told to children may differ from the one told to a young adult.

11. Displayed in museums and galleries

Aboriginal art represents both modern art and ethnographic collections. The natural elemental depictions, particularly in Arnhem's land, put it in an ethnographic context. Whereas, the desert artist's use of symbolic abstraction places makes it a part of the contemporary art world.

12. Highest priced Aboriginal artworks

In July 2007, the National Gallery of Australia bought a painting at a Sotheby's auction for AUD 2.4 million. This is the highest price ever paid for Aboriginal art. Water Dreaming by Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was reportedly sold for USD 150 in 1973, but is worth well over USD100,000 now.


Aboriginal art always tells a story and passes beliefs, ideas and customs to future generations. Some paintings tell about relationships, a desire to travel, nature or animals. In short, Aboriginal art passes on the visuals associated with different art forms and tells us the reality of past and present through the lens of myriad colours, shapes and structures.

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