Yondee (Shane Hensen) is a Noongar man from Western Australia, based in Perth. He was born in 1964 in Dumbleyung, 270 km south of Perth. The name Dumbleyung is derived from the Aboriginal word 'Dambeling' meaning large lake and refers to the lake nearby which is the largest in south-west WA. Yondee remembers this lake as a child and being told stories of the Wagal (rainbow snake).
He was told about hunting and shown sand drawings by his father. Around the age of ten, he would travel and visit his aunties on the Swan River and would collect paperbark to help them in their artwork. It was here that he started to learn about art from his older relatives who are known for their painting on paperbark.
He is an experienced and accomplished artist who is developing a way of working with sand and ochres to depict the stories and legends of his people. He also paints detailed figurative works based on mission life, hunting and animals. His works are abstract in their presentation but the narrative in their content. He wishes to continue the stories of his grandfather. He learnt these stories and images as ground paintings, so he feels the translation of them to sand paintings does them justice and brings them to new audiences.
Talking about his art practice today, Yondee Shane Hensen says: “I make sand paintings, collecting sand from the creeks. You have to wash it to get the salt out, but the sand is different out of the creeks, it's smoother, it’s good to use. When I make sand paintings or bark paintings using black and white, or bold colours, it’s giving that simple strong message.”
About the artwork:
Bush tucker and bush foods can be depicted in numerous ways in aboriginal paintings. Sometimes in abstract forms, particularly if symbolic to a Dreamtime story in which the painting designs are also influenced by the song, dance and interconnecting Dreamtime stories - the whole picture. And other times they are illustrated in their natural form, showing women or men collecting the various bush tucker, not as a Dreaming, but a depiction of daily ritual and teaching. For centuries, aboriginal women and men have been depicted in cave and sand drawings by U shaped motifs. If one can imagine looking down from a bird’s eye perspective, a human body would look like this sitting down. Other artists come up with other illustrations to depict this, such as Marie Ryder who uses footprints in the sand to show the tracks that the women leave behind.Meanings of Symbols in Aboriginal sand artAboriginal art symbols are significant because they are used to mark a sacred spot, location of a waterhole, direction to a certain place, or the illustration of Dreamtime stories. Aboriginal people travel often to distant lands. Events that occurred during these travels and rituals performed were recorded in sand and body paintings, thus, preserving the traditional Aboriginal art and culture. There are several symbols seen on these paintings. Here are some examples with their corresponding meanings:• Concentric circles. These are very common symbols in Aboriginal sand art because the circles depict the Dreamtime stories. However, the symbols are quite hard to understand. A deeper knowledge of the Dreamtime stories will help in deciphering the meaning of these concentric circles. This should not be confused with circles that represent a campfire or mark of a certain destination.• U-Shapes. These represent a place where the Aboriginal people meet or a gathering around a campsite.• Spears and digging sticks. These are indications of gender roles. Spears represent Aboriginal men, while digging sticks represent the women gathering food.• Lines and waves. They are either pointed upward or used to connect two circles. Lines indicated upward can either represent an upcoming rain or a fire rising upward. Waves can either mean a body of water or a snake.• These symbols can be paw prints or kangaroo prints. When used in sand art, they depict a spot where animals are domesticated.Symbols used in contemporary sand paintingThis traditional form of iconography is preserved so that the new generation will appreciate Australian Aboriginal culture. Sand painting is now done using acrylic paint, thus ensuring that the symbols are permanently seen or showcased. Some artists engraved this traditional art form in their canvases, still incorporating the true meaning of this sacred art form. After all, symbols in Aboriginal sand art are not mere art forms but are divine. They tell more than a map or a destination but a story of creation and the treasured history of the Aboriginal people.