The Modern World During and After the World Wars, C. 1914–1960

Pacific Art

What is aboriginal art?

Aboriginal art is the art of the indigenous people of Australia, whose artistic traditions continue to thrive to this day. Aboriginal art includes rock art, body art, bark paintings, fiber arts, and portable sculptures (Aboriginal people are traditionally nomadic). Aboriginal peoples have lived in Australia for the last forty thousand years and their art is closely connected to their religious beliefs and complex mythology. The Aboriginal spiritual world is called Jukurrpa, which is usually translated into English as “The Dreaming” or “The Dreamtime,” and emphasizes the connection between spiritual powers and place. It is important to note that Aboriginal artists are not creating anything new or original, but are re-interpreting designs and artistic elements that have been passed down by spirit ancestors. Many contemporary Aboriginal artists now use acrylic paint to create traditional dot paintings or bark paintings. The work of twentieth-century Aboriginal artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932–2002) helped bring Aboriginal art to the attention of the international art world and it is now part of major museum and gallery collections around the globe.

Aboriginal bark paintings from Australia serve an important religious function; painting traditions have been passed down through the generations. (Art courtesy Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie, Paris, France / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library.)


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