Aboriginal Dot Art

The Aborigines have cave paintings that are as old as 30000 years. Such cave paintings were used to illustrate the legends and stories of mythical beings that created the earth as we know it today. Such stories are referred to as Dreamings which, in aboriginal culture, is an explanation the origin of something or how it was created. Aboriginal dot art was brought to the limelight thanks to the work of an art teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, in the 1970s. As an art teacher to the Papunya, an aboriginal community assimilated from the desert, he encouraged the children to paint a mural based on traditional dreamings on the schools. This sparked interest in the community who took it up resulting in the genesis of the Western Desert art movement which is internationally recognized as one of the most important events Australian art history.

Geoffrey Bardon helped the aboriginal artists transfer the dreamings from desert sand to paint on canvas. However, the use sacred and secret objects in these paintings offended the aboriginal elders. Such sacred designs were only used in specific ceremonies and were applied using soil. After the ceremony, the soil would be smoothed over and uninitiated people never got to see these sacred designs. However, with canvas paintings the sacred designs were there for everyone to see which prompted an outcry from the aborigines. The artists eliminated the sacred elements and abstracted these designs into dots to conceal their sacred designs. Thus aboriginal dot art was born.

Aboriginal dot art uses a variety of natural materials such as orche pigments and bark which create dots, circles and curved/ straight lines which are the basic set of symbols at the core of this form of art. The dot paintings have developed from desert paintings created by various aboriginal clans as they moved through the desert. The clans gathered around in a clear area where the sand paintings were illustrated using seeds, flowers, sand and other natural substances.

The early aboriginal dot art clearly depicted sacred objects but this style disappeared within years. The first paintings were never sold since they were produced by people who were displaced from their home and the works were a visual representation of who they were and where they came from. Essentially, they were painting their identity. Today, this art is sold to the world in form of board and canvas paintings. The core meaning is of utmost significance to the Papunya but may seem meaningless to outsiders. Such sensitive information is never divulged to outsiders. While even within the clan, only senior ranking males understand the full meaning of the designs.

Aboriginal dot art, whether a concealer of deeper spiritual meaning or just symbols, has become increasingly complex and innovative artistically. It uses dots and pattern techniques that result in objects and shapes to merge in and out of one another. This art is also very important since it depicts traditional stories and ceremonies thus it plays a major role in saving this culture for future generations.