Symbols and Icongraphy

Traditional Symbols in Contemporary Aboriginal Art

Traditional symbols are an essential part of the work of many contemporary Aboriginal artists. The traditions from which today’s Aboriginal art have grown can be traced deep into Aboriginal peoples’ history. These traditional art forms are replete with conventional designs and symbols, which can be adapted by the modern Aboriginal artist.

Powerful Symbols

When applied to any surface – whether on the body of a person taking part in a ceremony or on a shield – these symbols have the power to imbue the object or person with religious significance and power. 

Through the use of designs inherited from ancestors, contemporary artists continue their connections to country and the Dreaming.

Ceremonial Symbols

For these reasons, body decoration using ancestral designs is an important part of many ceremonies. 

In central Australia, inherited designs are painted onto the face and body using ochres ground to a paste with water and applied in stripes or circles. The modern paintings of the Central and Western Desert Aboriginal artists incorporate many of these designs.

Some Traditional Symbols in Aboriginal Art

Some of the meaningful, powerful symbols used in contemporary Aboriginal art and traditional ceremony and religious art are:
  • Locations and events from Tingari Dreaming stories and songs.
  • Bush medicines
  • Bush plum
  • Body paint or Awelye
  • Water dreaming
  • Seven sisters
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