I used to be terrified of Australian Aboriginal art and culture. Not terrified of the culture itself–just of teaching it. I never felt like I fully understood it no matter what I did. I’ve admitted before that I assigned students research projects on the culture just so I wouldn’t have to teach an Aboriginal art lesson!
When creating the Ancient Art Course last semester, I buckled down and figured it out. I am grateful I bit the bullet and studied this rich culture more, because my Australian aboriginal lesson and project went so well because of it.
Here’s how it went.
For the first part of the lesson, my students and I looked at this artwork and analyzed it together.
After using basic VTS strategies, I used the following discussion questions as a guide.
- Describe how the figures are depicted.
- What physical traits and abilities do the Mimih possess?
- Why do you think the Mimih live on the rock walls and in crevices?
- Are the Mimih helpful or harmful towards people? What do you see in the artwork that makes you say that?
- What special powers might the Mimih have based on what you see in this image?
- What can you tell about the people who made this based on what you see?
I was surprised with how much my students had to say about this one! I wasn’t sure this discussion would go over that well. It just goes to show you what I have always said–the kids will always find something to say!
This artwork shows one type of spiritual being found in Australian Indigenous Art called Mimih from Arnhem Land in northern Australia. These beings are not only a common subject in rock art, but their folklore describes them as living in the crevices of rock. You visit this link to read more.
Australian Aboriginal Art
After we discussed this artwork, I introduced the Aboriginal people and discussed their history a bit. Art from the Indigenous people of Australia is the oldest and longest running consistent tradition of art in the world. It’s a little bit tricky to place it in any sort of timeline because it has such a rich history dating back so far. I could place Aboriginal art in my Prehistory course, the Ancient course, and beyond because of such a long-standing tradition.
Aboriginal art dates back as far as 40,000 B.C.E. with the oldest art form being rock art, which included both rock painting and rock engraving. These artworks are on the rock walls of shelters and caves as well as on boulders.
“Art has always been an important part of Aboriginal life, connecting past and present, the people and the land, and the supernatural and reality.” Source
The part I never really understood about Aboriginal life and culture was their religion–Dreamtime or Dreaming. And, rather than writing down the stories and beliefs, they pass down their stories orally from generation to generation.
“In Australia, Indigenous communities keep their cultural heritage alive by passing their knowledge, arts, rituals and performances from one generation to another, speaking and teaching languages, protecting cultural materials, sacred and significant sites, and objects.” Source
For an explanation of Dreamtime and to learn more about their art, watch this video that I created for my Ancient Art course. I didn’t show this to my students, but it is a good one to watch for your information before you teach about this to your students.
To help explain Dreamtime, I showed the below video to my students. I paused every minute or two to sum up and discuss to make sure they were following. Before the video, I also explained to them what a Didgeridoo is and how the Aboriginal made them. (Click here for that info. It’s fascinating! The instrument is basically made by termites not by man.) Didgeridoo is playing in the background of the video.
Aboriginal Bark Paintings
After we looked at the older rock art and learned about Dreamtime, I showed the students some examples of more contemporary art done by Aboriginal people today. With my students, I printed several copies of these artworks and had students make observations and write narratives about them in groups. Have students notice the commonalities as well as figure out what stories are being told.
I’ve already written a post about these artworks, so I’m going to point you over to that post for this information.
Aboriginal Art Conventions
To summarize, here are the basic of characteristics of Australian Aboriginal Art that we discussed as a class.
- Connection with the spiritual Dreamtime
- Pictures of animals and people
- Symbolism and stories
- Patterns and geometry
- Warm color palette–yellows, oranges, reds, and warm browns
- Often shown from an aerial perspective, looking down on the subjects from above
- Use of natural materials from the land
Aboriginal Art Project
For our related art project, I did two different things.
For most of my classes, I started with the same process I describe in the post Oil Pastel Animals that Pop. I had students draw the animal big on the paper and then gave them only red, yellow, and brown to paint the animal and background. The whole page had to be painted.
Then, students used oil pastels to add texture or pattern. Then, students could use white, black, brown, red, orange, and yellow paint to add extra patterns and dots as the Aboriginal artists did. I gave them both paintbrushes and q-tips for this step.
These turned out great! Check out these examples of student work.
For one 6th grade class, I used brown paper torn at the edges to mimic rock. I had students use paint and oil pastel to draw animals and add the X-ray skeleton effect as well as dots.
I did this two ways to experiment with which I like better in the end. They both have their merits and look awesome on the bulletin board together!
Aboriginal Art Writing Extension
I didn’t do this with my students, but you could have students write a dreamtime-inspired story of how a cat got its meow, how a whale got its blowhole, etc.
Aboriginal Art Free Download
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