Aboriginal art is a testament to the oldest living culture in the world. And it is diverse as it is vivid, covering rock art and cave paintings, ceremonial body painting, sand painting, carvings on implements and instruments, paintings and etchings on emu eggs and boab nuts, paintings on wood and textile, art on glass. And more recently, paintings on canvas, acrylics and watercolours. Every medium has been finely explored.
Yet for surviving through the ages and the challenges that changing times bring, Aboriginal art has suffered deeply. Several factors progressively eroded the Aboriginal culture – the lost generation, penalty on speaking Indigenous languages, and a systematic stripping of Aboriginal values. The cultural roots have been largely severed. The chain of traditions has been deeply fractured.
What is in existence today is only contained in the remotest corners of Australia and a spattering of a few cultural centres in our cities. Here the Aboriginal art movement thrives driven by a few who recognize its true merit.
For a culture that celebrates its relationship with the country, a custodianship rather than an ownership of the land, the themes that Aboriginal art covers are spiritual, healing and nurturing. For example, bush tucker and bush medicine, art that illustrates sustainable practices.
It touches on several themes at once - natural wonders - the woods, the hills, the rivers, the bogs, the seas, and the deserts; unique splendour of seasons; living creatures that share our world; the starry night sky; areal views of the land and more.
Apart from documenting strong ties to the land, Aboriginal art also covers themes of mythological creatures and spirits from the Dreamtime. This is the essence of the Aboriginal culture. Megafauna that dominated the earth thousands of years ago. Mystical creatures and beings that crafted and created defining landforms. Ancient stories of origin and lore.
It is, however, contemporary Aboriginal art that is slowly growing out of traditional bounds and exploring subjects closer to our times. Artists are finding their voice and creative expression through art - bringing political commentary on Indigenous issues to the fore, reconciliation and righting historical wrongs, environmental concerns in support of conservation and protection, education and equality – important subjects that need representation.