Now we head to Australia on our trip around the world to take a look at some Australian aboriginal art or Indigenous Australian art. We’ll look at some examples, discuss the art with art looking questions, and share some more resources about Aboriginal art projects for kids.
I chose the work of aboriginal artist, David Malangi, of Central Arnheim land. Because he a contemporary artist, you’ll have to click over to the National Museum of Australia website to see better quality images of his work.
This work is from 1965, but aboriginal art is one of the longest running art traditions in the world. Art from the indigenous people of Australia dates back by around 28,000 years. Most Australian aboriginal art has a very strong spiritual undertone connecting to their beliefs called “Dreaming” and “Dreamtime.” I have a really hard time explaining Dreamtime, because it is a concept that I just don’t really understand, but it is this overarching place or structure or system that is related to the past, the present, or future.
Very clear, huh? I think I can’t understand, because I am not in it. W.E.H. Stanner, and Australian anthropologist once said, “We [non-Indigenous Australians] shall not understand The Dreaming fully except as a complex of meanings” (Stanner, The Dreaming, 1956). If an Australian anthropologist tells me that I can’t really understand it, it makes me feel better about my total ignorance in this area.
Here’s a video that explains it better than I can.
Here are some of the primary characteristics or conventions of Australian aboriginal artwork:
- Connection with the spiritual Dreamtime
- Pictures of animals and people
- Lots of symbolism and stories
- A lot of patterns and geometry
- Warm color palette
- Often shown from an aerial perspective, looking down on the subjects from above
- Use of natural materials from the land
This painting by Malangi is a bark painting. It’s painted on the interior of a strip of tree bark. He includes many animals and paints them with their skeletons and organs exposed like an x-ray. Take another look at some other works by Malangi on the National Museum of Australia website. They all have a really cool use of pattern and movement. Love them.
Aboriginal Art Discussion Questions
- What is going on in this picture?
- Describe the lines, patterns, colors, shapes, movement, and other elements and principles of art.
- What can you tell about the aboriginal people based on what you see?
- What stories can you find?
Aboriginal Art Project
I think if I were to do an art project about these works, I would mix this Australian X-Ray painting art project with a lesson on dot painting like this one. I would have students draw an x-ray type picture of an animal, do the colored bold background, and then have them decorate the whole thing with dots made by dipping q-tips in paint. Sounds fun!
You could have students learn some of the Aboriginal Dreamtime stories as well and make their paintings inspired by the stories. You Tube has a lot of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories. I’ll link to them below.
Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories on YouTube
- The Rainbow Serpent
- How the Kangaroo Got Its Pouch
- Mirram the Kangaroo and Warreen the Wombat
- How the Moon was Made
- Why the Koala Has a Stumpy Tail
- Tiddalick the Frog
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