From body decorations to
contemporary aboriginal art

The Aborigines didn't have words corresponding exactly to art and artist. "Art" was an ingredient, an essential, an un-separated part of the whole of aboriginal life. The elaborate body decoration on an initiation ceremony is not a separate layer of paint on the body, but an essential part of the whole person in the contest of the ceremony and has no value or meaning after the play is over.

"Ceremonial decorations ... are sacred art indeed for they transform the participants into the totemic ancestor themselves, to once again act out the Dreamtime travels of the heroes and re-create the animals and plants for the use of the tribe today." (D. Baglin - B. Mullins: Aboriginal Art of Australia)

Indeed, not the painting or decoration, not the "work of art" is the main thing, but the involvement, the whole person and his/her activity in the preparation for and in actual Corroboree that counts. The time spent with other people making the decoration, the sharing of religious beliefs, knowledge, the exchange of hunting stories, gossips, the love and hate relations, the personal contact is the most important.

The artwork has meaning only in relation and creation, and has no afterlife. "Art" for Aborigines has no independent value, but the role it plays in the Corroboree. Sacred symbolic objects are constructed with great ritual for a particular ceremony and are destroyed immediately afterwards.

Where aboriginal art took off for a journey of its own is in the decoration of utilitarian objects. At the beginning the decorations filled the tools and weapons with sorcery and magic, but because these objects are imperishable, long-lasting objects the decoration on them lived on and took up a meaning similar to Western art concepts: it gave aesthetic pleasure to the beholder and an urge for artistic expression for the maker. The beliefs, that the magical puri-puri made it more powerful, put a higher economic value on the more pleasing weapon, but the aesthetic appeal of the artifacts left behind the magic and aboriginal "art for art" has been born. The best proof for this is that some richly grained timber artifacts were only stained with vegetable oils and polished.

The utilitarian objects: spears, boomerangs, dillybags, bullroarers, clapsticks, emu-callers, didgeridoos are rarely sacred, so the craftsman/artist is free from the sometimes very strong symbolism used on sacred objects, they can use easily recognizable forms, wider colour spectrum, the whole arsenal of artistic expression, styles and media.

In the Corroborees, in the re-enactments of the creation legends the body and ground paintings are un-separable from the whole person, the art and artist has no name. Today Aboriginal artworks are valued exhibits in the largest art galleries of the world and Albert Namatjira or Wandjuk Marika are world famous artists.

Aboriginal Art made a very rapid evolution
  •   from natural materials: red and yellow ochre, white pipeclay, black manganese oxide to acrylic,
  •   from traditional styles: animal representation, dot painting, x-ray painting to contemporary styles,
  •   from rock-faces, barks, artifacts to canvas,
  •   from the rain-shelters to urban dwellings,
  •   from ancient traditions to global trade -
it is a story of successful adaptation.

New artists are 'discovered' from time to time sky-rocketing the price of their artwork. Take your chances with these aboriginal paintings...