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What are Some Examples of Aboriginal Art?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 19, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By FrameMaker — On Sep 24, 2010

@ GenevaMech- I never knew there was a difference between hieroglyphs and petroglyphs. I grew up in Hawaii, so I have seen ancient Hawaiian Petroglyphs. I guess these can be considered aboriginal art paintings because the islands were uninhabited before Polynesian settlers settled the archipelago.

The Volcanoes National Park on the big island has a site with a large concentration of these hand-carved masterpieces. For anyone who takes a visit to the islands I recommend checking out this site. The site is called Panau-Nui Pu'u Loa, and you will see a number of petroglyphs carved into the smooth pahoehoe lava in the area. If you see any petroglyphs that have depict people with triangle shaped bodies, then you have seen a style of petroglyph that is native to no other place.

By GenevaMech — On Sep 24, 2010

@ Fiorite- I would just like to make the distinction between petroglyphs and hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs are an expression of communication. Hieroglyphs are ancient written languages, while petroglyphs are ancient aboriginal art. Hieroglyphs are artifacts and can still be considered aboriginal art work, but petroglyphs were meant to represent art.

By Fiorite — On Sep 24, 2010

Australian aboriginal art is not the only aboriginal art. By definition aboriginal refers to any first nation people. This includes the Native American tribes that inhabited the United States before European settlers arrived, many African and South American tribes, and some ancient civilizations. Art form any of these groups of people can be considered aboriginal art.

Aboriginal art can include artifacts as well as pieces with aesthetic value. Clay pots, tools, weapons, stone paintings, hieroglyphs, and the likes can all be considered aboriginal art if they came from a civilization that was the original settlers of a land.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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