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Aboriginal Art
Iconographic Art Form
Integral Part Of Living
A Verbal History
Aboriginal Art

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The indigenous culture of Australia

This art form, made by the Aboriginal natives of Australia, is a part of a culture known to date back as far as 50,000 years into the past. Although their art is formally classified within the Oceanic art category, the Aboriginal people have produced, and keep producing till this day, an art form that cannot be truly comparable to any other art form, as theirs was a culture kept in pure isolation, and their isolation led to an evolution of art that is uniquely their own. Aboriginals used to live almost entirely in small traveling communities, or 'kin groups' hunting skillfully for food and gathering what materials they needed from their surroundings. Any one person is placed in one of up to eight kin groups, while all of humanity and all the phenomena of both the natural and spiritual world are classed as belonging to one or another complementary groups called 'moieties'. These two separate distinctions determine a person's social and religious conduct and the difference in moieties is important to understanding Aboriginal art, as each moiety deals with different subject and different designs. Their material existence was often stark, as many tribes wandered the far outreaches of the outback, some lived in the tropical regions of the north and the temperate climates of the south- and some literally survived in the deserts of the mid-continent. The most durable art works are the multitude of rock carvings and rock paintings which are found all across Australia, antedating the Paleolithic rock carvings found in some locations in Europe.

Aboriginal art as an iconographic art form

The art the Aboriginals created is extremely complicated both in its visual aspect and in the vast symbolic language of icons it uses. Symbols are carriers of meaning, whether they are in written words or in icons. Each intrinsic artistic idiom contains an understandable lexicon of designs and contexts that can be used in a multitude of combinations, each with different meaning. The artist, by marking his surfaces with these symbols, transfers the meaning onto the surface and transforms a thing from its mundane state to its supernatural state. This was also a way of asserting authority, as the use of ancestrally inherited designs and icons reasserted their identity, their rights and responsibilities to the tribe.

Art as an integral part of living and functional on all levels

Art is absolutely central to Aboriginal life; for political, utilitarian, social or didactic purposes, art is essential, and often these various functions overlap and interconnect. Art always connects the past with the present in societies that don't use writing and lettering to document history.

Aboriginals took this one very serious step further

Their art connects between current reality and the supernatural world of their ancestors, it expresses both the collective and the individual identity of the community and it strengthens the bond between man and the land he lives on. Their religious life is centered on the 'Dreaming', which is basically a European term for what the Aboriginals themselves perceive as the natural state of the cosmos and the spiritual and moral structure that is intrinsic to it. It does not refer to dreams or unreality, but rather to the state of reality that is beyond the mundane. Thus 'Dreamtime' refers to the period in time beyond living memory and the epic deeds of the super natural beings and creator ancestors, such as the Wagilag Sisters, the Rainbow Serpents and the Tingari and Wadjina, who traveled across the unformed world, creating everything init and laying down the laws of social conduct among humans.

Aboriginal art establishing both a verbal history and the intrinsic connection to nature

Art was a job given traditionally to the men in Aboriginal society and women were allowed to create a set number and types of works, while men were given the task of creating rock paintings and artifacts. The achievement of status in Aboriginal culture was through the acquisition of knowledge, and not by merit of material possessions, and art is the prominent sign of knowledge.

Art was customarily created and viewed only by those initiated to the proper level of awareness.

For the most part, the art was meant to tell a story taken from the culture's folklore and their version of the world creation; its significance was mainly for ritualistic purposes and the reiteration of the tribe's vital connection to the nature surrounding it. Art was a form of establishing history and reiterating the way in which Aboriginals view reality and the boundary between reality and dreams.



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