The indigenous people of Australia, often called aborigines, have a rich art tradition which goes back for centuries. Many visitors to Australia enjoy going to galleries which display aboriginal art, or visiting aboriginal art at famous sites, such as caves which have rock paintings. A number of different arts and crafts fall under the heading of aboriginal art, including a wide range of contemporary modes of expression. Modern aboriginal art such as large format canvases is highly prized in the art world for distinctive uses of color, shape, and composition, and because the aboriginal population is relatively small, and shrinking.
The most classic example of aboriginal art is rock art. Aborigines painted designs, figures, and dots on rock all over Australia. Exposed rock art has largely worn away, but extant examples of ancient rock arts can be found inside caves. According to historians, rock art was largely practiced by men. The sweeping, large format designs of traditional aboriginal rock art are truly astounding, and often deeply moving for visitors. Rocks are also engraved and arranged to create distinctive aboriginal art. Sadly, much aboriginal rock art is under threat, because it cannot stand up to repeated touching, and many aboriginal art sites are closed to the public for this reason.
Aboriginal women have a long tradition of creating fiber arts. Aboriginal art often takes the form of textiles which are designed to be worn or used as bedding, and are usually woven or printed with basic repetitive designs. In addition to being used for every day purposes, textile art is also worn in ceremonies. Women also weave baskets, and make woven and strung jewelry. Many modern textiles are quite astounding.
Examples of aboriginal art can also be found in traditional instruments and weapons, such as boomerangs and didgeridoos. The didgeridoo is a sacred instrument in Australia, and as such is often decorated with beautiful and potent aboriginal art. Boomerangs, as well, are often decoratively carved and painted to make each one distinctive to its owner.
Aboriginal art also appears in the flesh. Like many ancient cultures, the aborigines have a tradition of tattoo which is very old. Body painting is another, less permanent form of aboriginal body art. The tattoo tradition of aboriginal people reminds many people of Polynesian tattoo, and it is likely that some diffusion between the two cultures contributed to this. Rich swirling designs, dots, and facial tattoos are common modes of expression in aboriginal body art. Scarring and piercing are also used by some aborigines to enhance their bodies with art.