Table of Contents

Aboriginal Art

Young dancers Contemporary Aboriginal dancers

Australia map
Torres Strait Island map

I am not an expert on Aboriginal art, but I taught for 15 years at the Australian National University, during which I taught Australian art and my husband worked at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.  So we were very involved with Aboriginal issues and Aboriginal art during an eventful time.

Aboriginal languages

 Aboriginal languages: 
"In the late 18th century, there were more than 250 distinct Aboriginal social groupings and a similar number of languages or varieties. At the start of the 21st century, fewer than 150 Aboriginal languages remain in daily use, and all except only 13, which are still being transmitted to children, are highly endangered."

--no permanent settlements, very little material culture--what used to be called “hard primitivism” as opposed to the “soft” primitivism of Polynesians, for example
--some 200 distinct languages, as many as a thousand dialects of these

Whitlam and Linaiari 1975
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 16  August 1975, Northern Territory.  This is the historical moment that is the theme of Paul Kelly's great song, "From Little Things Big Things Grow". Lignari led the strike by Aboriginal stockmen to reclaim their traditional land, beginning the process of overturning the concept of "terra nullius".

Eddie Mabo with Torres Strait Islander flagMabo
EX:  Eddie Mabo with the Torres Strait Islander flag and in later life:

Eddie Mabo (c. 29 June 1936 – 21 January 1992[1]) was an Indigenous Australian man from the Torres Strait Islands known for his role in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and for his role in a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius ("nobody's land") which characterised Australian law with regard to land and title.[From Wikipedia]

One of the continuing vexed issues:  is the production of "artworks" by Aboriginal people properly placed in the realm of ethnography or can it be seen as fine art in the Western art tradition?

--art market’s implications for tribal, indigenous people --what are we to make of our AESTHETIC response, as non-indigenous people, to images that for the maker have very different meanings?

Aborigines have been in Australia for 40-60,000 years, and are considered by many to be the oldest enduring and continuous culture. Aboriginal Australians are descendents of the first people to leave Africa up to 75,000 years ago, a genetic study has found, confirming they may have the oldest continuous culture on the planet. IMPORTANT:  Aboriginal culture is NOT one culture, but consists of small nomadic groups, each with own language--in some places with populations as little as 1,000, three different languages will co-exist.

Adrian Jangala Robertson

Adrian Jangala Robertson, Yalpirakinu, 2020 (Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award winner).
He at Yuendumu, his paintings consistently refer to the desert mountain, ridges and tress which are part of Yalpirakinu, his home land.

Tjala Women's Cooperative

Tjala Women's Collaborative, Nganampa Ngura, 2020 (Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award winner.
Note their utter remoteness!   Nganampa Ngura means "Our Place".

Aborigines have, of course, been making “art”--that is, creating images--since ancient times, and their rock art paintings, which are still maintained and preserved, are believed to be among the oldest surviving imagery in the world. But "painting", as Westerners understand it, is, as we shall see, a very recent phenomenon.

EXS:  Rock art--Wandjinas, still cared for--one of most prominent Creation myths.  Wunnumurra Gorge, Barnett River. Kimberley, Western Australia. 

Wangjina at Sydney Olympics

Wandjina at the Sydney Olympics, 2000

From Blue Guide:
"The regional Aboriginal rock paintings centre around Wandjina spirits. Involved in the creation myths, these wondrous fertility guardians bring the monsoons and cyclones to ensure regeneration of life. They are in human form with hair that is also the area’s large, white cumulonimbus clouds. They can cause lightning to emanate from their feathered headdresses. The Wandjina live the dry months of the year in their self-portrait rock paintings. During The Wet, the local Aboriginal people preserve them by retouching the paintings while the Wandjina themselves are away tending to the rains."

Mimi spirit Kakadu
 Mimi spirit, Kakadu

The rock art of the Kakadu region provides an interesting insight into the process in which the convention of artistic styles develop. Prior to the end of the last ice age, rock art in Kakadu presented human and animal figures in animated poses.

Bark paintings--used ceremonially to impart Creation stories and initiation rites by some tribes of the East--were found by famous explorer Baldwin Spencer in early 1900s

Bark painting from Baldwin Spencer expedition,

Bark painting collected 1912 by Spencer

Corroboree 1901
Tjitjingalla Corroboree performed in Alice Springs, 1901

These images, and indeed almost all of Aboriginal art until very recently, were made for religious purposes--as telling parts of initiation stories--and were usually ephemeral, created in the sand or on the body as part of ceremonies


Men in initiation body paint, Cox Peninsula, 1939, photo by Bill Nicholls

Bora sand painting

Postcard, early 20th century, showing staged Bora with sand painting, ca. 1910

[Bora is an initiation ceremony of the Aboriginal people of Eastern Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before European colonisation. The word "bora" also refers to the site on which the initiation is performed. At such a site, boys, having reached puberty, achieve the status of men. The initiation ceremony differs from Aboriginal culture to culture, but often, at a physical level, involved scarification, circumcision, subincision and, in some regions, also the removal of a tooth.]

While the relative permanence of rock art makes it an important means of dating the introduction of motifs and styles, it was not the most frequently used medium. Painting the bodies of celebrants in initiation and similar rites, desert sand paintings not unlike horizontal frescos and painted slabs of bark for the interior of dwellings were from early days the most favoured media. Most of the motifs found in bark and canvas paintings are secular variations on the motifs in the consciously ephemeral body and sand paintings.

Most important and the most cosmically ascetic aspect of Aboriginal imagery to understand: The Dreaming:

"When talking to an Aboriginal painter about a particular work, he or she will first of all tell the visitor (as far as the constraints of religious secrecy allow) about the tjukurrpa (Dreaming), which is the painting’s source. He or she will describe the specific interpretation which the symbols assume in this story. The artist will point to the tract of country in which the story takes place, often naming the sites in great detail, and he will talk about the custodianship of the area where the story is centred, naming both specific contemporary custodians and the particular subsection of the kin system through whom ownership is generally passed down. For the artists, this is the essential background information to the proper understanding and appreciation of their work. A painting not informed by a Dreaming (if such a thing were seriously possible) would be nothing more than frivolous decoration; simply not art."

--Ian Green, ‘Make ’em flash, poor bugger’—-talking about men’s paintings in Papunya in Margaret West, ed., The Inspired Dream—Life as Art in Aboriginal Australia (1988).

Wally Caruana: “The Dreaming is a European term used by Aborigines to describe the spiritual, natural and moral order of the cosmos. It relates to the period from the genesis of the universe to a time beyond living memory...The terms do not refer to the state of dreams or unreality, but rather to a state of reality beyond the mundane. The Dreaming focuses on the activities and epid deeds of the supernatural beings and creator ancestors such as the Rainbow Serpents, the Lightning Men, the Wagilag Sisters, ...and Wandjina, who, in both human and non-human form, travelled across the unshaped world, creating everything in it and laying down the laws of social and religious behavior....The Dreaming provides the ideological framework by which human society retains a harmonious balance with the universe--a charter and mandate that has been sanctified over time.” (Caruana, Aboriginal Art, p. 10)

This is the framework in which we as Westerrners must consider Aboriginal art--all elements/motifs are totemic.

Aboriginal art is first and foremost representational--and, in most cases, the paintings tell a story that can have several layers of meaning.

Tjapaltjarri's Sun Moon and Morning Star
EX:  Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, Sun, Moon and Morning Star Tjukurrpa, 1973.

Many of its conventions are recognisable to the viewer. Several fish of diverse species are shown caught in a large fish trap or a kangaroo is presented in x-ray style, showing its major organs and skeleton. With a bit of assistance the viewer recognises the half doughnut shapes and bisected angles in dot paintings as camp sites and emu tracks.

Beyond shared conventions, Aboriginal art in every region and in every style continues to be representational to those who understand its motifs 

I want to focus on the two major styles, connected to different regions of the country:

1) X-Ray style of Arnhem Land and Upper Northern Territory. In these works, the cross-hatch designs and colours represent totemic or kin groups associated with stewardship of a particular site. They can represent special relationships with the species or event depicted.

Mawandjul's Red KangarooJohn Mawandjul, Kandakidi, Red Kangaroo, 1997)

Mawandjul's Rainbow Serpent

John Mawandjul, Rainbow Serpent, 1991

Nadjamerrek's Kolobarr
Lofty Nadjamerrek, Kolobarr, the Plains Kangaroo, 1980s. (depicting “rarrk”)

Just as one learns representational conventions in order to interpret a painting, there are associated stories and observations learned by Aboriginal initiates. The extent of esoteric knowledge conveyed by the art, a painting for instance, depends upon the status of the observers. Still, a considerable amount of information about a painting is secular. The meaning of the cross-hatches, on the other hand, is not explained; they seem simply decorative to the uninitiated observer, while to the initiated and those skilled in looking, these signs take on additional representational and symbolic significance

Rainbow Serpent is a creation symbol story shared by several tribes/groups, so it appears in many regions.

The serpent as a Creation Being is perhaps the oldest continuing religious belief in the world, dating back several thousands of years. The Rainbow Serpent features in the Dreaming stories of many mainland Aboriginal nations and is always associated with watercourses, such as billabongs, rivers, creeks and lagoons. The Rainbow Serpent is the protector of the land, its people, and the source of all life. However, the Rainbow Serpent can also be a destructive force if it is not properly respected. The most common version of the Rainbow Serpent story tells that in the Dreaming, the world was flat, bare and cold. The Rainbow Serpent slept under the ground with all the animal tribes in her belly waiting to be born. When it was time, she pushed up, calling to the animals to come from their sleep. She threw the land out, making mountains and hills and spilled water over the land, making rivers and lakes. She made the sun, the fire and all the colours.

Warmun community artist Rover Thomas’s magnificent depiction of Cyclone Tracy, a black path through coloured landscape, is easily recognised once its significance is explained.

Thomas's Tracy
Rover Thomas (Joolama), Cyclone Tracy, 1991, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

   Erika beside Thomas' Tracey

Then on Christmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin. The city was regarded by Aboriginal people of the Kimberley as the centre of European culture and, as cyclones, rain and storms are usually associated with ancestral Rainbow Serpents, elders interpreted the event as the ancestors warning Aboriginal people to reinvigorate their cultural practices.  In Thomas' painting, the black form represents the cyclone itself gaining intensity as it heads towards Darwin. Minor winds, some carrying red dust, are shown feeding into the main image.

Rothko #20

Mark Rothko, #20, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
“White fella paint like me, but he don’t know how to use black”

As an example of how these paintings work in terms of conveying through repeated motifs an important story for an Aboriginal group, I will concentrate on Wagilag Sisters story

Basic aspects of this story, this songline:

The story goes that the two Wagilag sisters, one of whom was pregnant, were fleeing their home and were being followed by clansmen. On their travels they come across many animals and plants and brought them in to life by naming them. Eventually, the Wagilag sisters set up camp beside a fertile waterhole at Mirarrmina. There, one of the sisters pollutes the waterhole and the pregnant sister gives birth, which causes Wititj the python to wake up angry and incensed. Wititj creates a storm on emerging from the waterhole and attempts to wash the two Wagilag sisters in to the well with his downpour (the first monsoon). The two Wagilag sisters dance and sing sacred songs in an attempt to diffuse the situation and keep them safe, but when the sisters become too exhausted to continue, the python is able to swallow them up (including child and dog)! However, soon after, Wititj develops stomach pains and groans skywards above the land where he attracts the attention of other great snakes who also rise up in to the sky. The great snakes talk and they discover they all have different names but they wonder why the python is ill. Realising he made a mistake, Wititj lies about what he has just eaten but the pain becomes so unbearable Wititj falls back to the land and vomits up the sisters who regain their life from the stinging bites of caterpillars. Undeterred, Wititj beats them with clapsticks and eats them again. Later, the Wagilag sister's clansmen, asleep in the hollow left by the python's fall, were visited in their dreams by the sisters who revealed to the clansmen the secrets of the songs and dances which had been performed in an effort to stop the rainstorm.

SO: as the following images indicate, this story can be told visually in a variety of ways, in which the recurring motifs are easily "read" by those who know the story and the significance of its parts.

Djuwarak's Wagilag

Dawidi Djulwarak, Wagilag Story, 1960.

Gudthaykudthay's Wagilag Sisters with Child

Philip Gudthaykudthay, Wagilag Sisters with child, 2007.


Yilkari Kitani's Wagilag Story

Yilkari Kitani, Wagilag Story, 1937.

Yilkari painting Wagilag

Yilkari Kitani painting this very bark 1937.

The other great stylistic development that most of us recognize as Aborigianl art are the so-called “dot paintings” of the desert communities.

Daeidi's Wagilag Creation

Dawidi's Wagilag Creation

Dawidi's Wawiki
Dawidi's Wawiki

Tjapaltjar's Women's Dreaming
Mick Namarari Tjapaltjar, Women's Dreaming [Women's Dreaming (No.27)] c.1973
Tjakamarra, no title

John Tjakamarra, no title, c. 1973.

Yumari's Uta-Uta-Tjangal

Yumari, Uta-Uta-Tjangal, 2001.
Hogan's Kungkarangalpa
Hogan, Kungkarangalpa, det., 2013.

Notice the development from earlier paintings to later ones. As with the x-ray style, until quite recently, these were generally religious and ephemeral, the work being done as ground (sand) paintings, body decoration or constructions. Public awareness of the forms in the desert depended upon photographs by ethnographers, which were first taken in the early 20C, or rock art and more transportable decorations on implements seen by visitors to the region willing to brave difficult travel.

**We can trace the beginnings of this style, and of what we call contemporary Aboriginal art, to a single moment and place: Papunya in the early 1970s. Of course, there had been a recognition of some Aboriginal art from earlier times, but collected by anthropologists and ethnographers: e.g. 1947 Yirkala drawings, made for the anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt on butcher paper--extraordinary example of early transmission of Yirkala people’s storylines.

Yunupingu's Ancestral fire
Munggurawauy Yununpingu, Ancestral fire at Biranybirany, 1947.

Label for Yunugingu

Bark painting began to be sold in the early 1960s. However, in this case the impetus was from outstation missionaries who attempted unsuccessfully to introduce watercolours. So, in effect, Aboriginal art has been available to the wider public since the 1960s. Of course, a number of anthropological and gallery exhibits pre-date this by a century and more; German and Swiss anthropological collections, such as the ethnographic museum in Basel, were important archives of early Aboriginal artefacts in Europe. The most important inaugural exhibition in Australia was arguably the 1929 National Museum of Victoria’s ‘Primitive Art’ show, which included an anthropological display of director Baldwin Spencer’s collection of bark paintings acquired in 1912. But it was not until 1959 that any Australian art gallery began to collect Aboriginal work as art rather than as ethnographic artifacts, when the Art Gallery of New South Wales under artist and curator Tony Tuckson began to display works by artists from Tiwi and Arnhem Land cultures.

Tuckson filming
Tony Tuckson filming Tiwi poles, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1959.
Tiwi poles

Tiwi poles in Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, today.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s that what we think of as modern Aboriginal art came to the attention of the broader world and entered into the elaborately monetized matrices of the art market.

Papunja map
Map of Papunya region; note Papunya, Hermannsburg, Yuendumu.

The introduction of acrylic paints to replace ground ochres and other naturally occurring materials began in the early 1970s at the Papunya School in central Australia. Geoffrey Bardon, a teacher at the school, asked senior Aboriginal men in the community for permission and advice on the Honey Ant Dreaming for a mural at the school.

Elders painting Honey Ant Dreaming

Tribal elders and Honey Ant Mural, Papunya, NT, 1971.
Bardon at Papunya
Geoffrey Bardon with Honey Ant Mural, Papunya, NT, 1972.

Following considerable discussion about the propriety of depicting sacred knowledge in a secular setting, Papunya elder Old Tom Onion Tjapangati, who owned Honey Ant Dreaming, gave permission to a number of local men to paint the mural. At about the same time, Bardon provided artist board and paints and with the help of Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, one of the mural painters who had used modern materials, the Papunya men began painting in acrylic on board. Initially, respect for ceremonial proprieties caused more naturalistic depictions to replace the sacred iconography. Eventually, recognition that conventional motifs could be described without revealing sacred secrets allowed a return to traditional style. Art board was quickly replaced by the more portable unstretched canvas.

Men's painting room, Papunya

Tjupurrula's Water Dreaming
Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, ater Dreaming, 1972.

Tjupurrula's Water Dreaming Kalipinypa

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, Water Dreaming, 1972.

Papunya and origin of dot paintings:

Bardon helped the Aboriginal artists transfer depictions of their stories from desert sand to paint on canvas. They soon realised that the sacred-secret objects they painted were being seen not only by European, but also related Aboriginal people which could be offended by them [5]. The artists decided to eliminate the sacred elements and abstracted the designs into dots [4,5] to conceal their sacred designs which they used in ceremony. During ceremonies Aboriginal people would clear and smooth over the soil to then apply sacred designs which belonged to that particular ceremony. These designs were outlined with dancing circles and often surrounded with dots [2]. In the early years of Papunya paintings still showed clear depictions of artefacts, sand paintings and decorated ritual objects. But this style disappeared within a few years. Uninitiated people never got to see these sacred designs since the soil would be smoothed over again and painted bodies would be washed. This was not possible with paintings. Consequently Aboriginal artists abstracted the sacred designs to disguise the meanings associated with them. Some paintings are layered, and while they probably appear meaningless to non-Aborigines, the dot paintings might reveal much more to an Aboriginal person depending on their level of initiation. The first paintings to come from the Papunya Tula School of Painters weren’t made to be sold. Papunya Tula Artists manager, Paul Sweeney, explains that they “were produced by people who were displaced, and living a long way from their country. The works were visual representations of their own being. They painted sites that they belonged to and the stories that are associated with those sites. Essentially they were painting their identity onto their boards, as a visual assertion of who they were and where they were from.” [3] A similar series of events, but with a little more awareness of the idea of selling art to the white community, brought the art of the Warlpiri artists of the Northern Territory to the public arena. In this instance, Terry Davis, principal of the Yuendumu school asked senior men to paint the doors of the community’s school in 1983.

Warlpiri men with door

Walpiri men in front of one of the doors they created to deter graffiti.

The Warlpiri were quite aware of the issues at hand. In fact, the women of the area had been producing decorated implements for a couple of decades for anthropologists.

Sticks made by Yuendumu women, early 1980's
Yuendumu women's stick

The work would be public, and would be the basis for subsequent, saleable art which would not be ephemeral but would be purchased and would permanently leave the community.  That it could subsequently be sold beyond benefit to the community or the artist was not an understanding at this point. In 1985, arrangements for the secularisation of the art were made in Yuendumu through the Warlukurlangu Artists Association, one of the first Aboriginal-run organisations to benefit from commercial sales of traditional artworks.


The Front entrance to the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association at the Yuendumu art Centre, 2003.

Paddy Japanangka at work

Paddy Japanangka Lewis at work at Warl Warlukurlangu Artists in Yuendumu, N.T.

Paddy Simms' Yuendumu

Paddy Simms, Yuendumu, 1980s.
Yuendumu Door
Yuendumu door, Yuendumu, NT, 1983.

 Yuendumu doors
Paintings by first Yuendumu artists, Nine of the 30 Yuendumu doors, now in South Australian Museum.

Star Dreaming

Yanjilypiri Jukurrpa (Star Dreaming), 1985.  Artists Paddy Jupurrurla Nelson (Warlpiri people, 1919-1999) Paddy Japaljarri Sims (Warlpiri people, 1917-2010) ,and Kwentwentjay Jungurrayi Spencer (Warlpiri people, 1919-1990).  Yuendumu artists have become some of the best known artists of the movement.  This painting is on the cover of Wally Caruana's book.

Cover Pompidou catalog

Pompidou exhibit catalog cover
Yam France
Yams in France

Pompidou exhibit room

One of the exhibit's rooms.

In 1989, six Yuendumu artists out of the Warlukurlangu Artists community installed a Yam Dreaming painting in the exhibition ‘Magiciens de la terre’ at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. This exhibition marked a significant point in the recognition of Aboriginal art abroad, and in a ‘high art’ context rather than as ethnographic artifact. This exhibition was a huge turning point in the recognition of all indigenous art, from Africa and the Americas as well as Australia.

For Aboriginal art, the real beginnings of the ever-vexed interactions between ancestral imagery and the voracious Western art world.

Art in
                gallery Art in

Aboriginal art on display at Sydney gallery, Danks Street, Waterloo, NSW, 2010.--in typical art gallery context:  white walls, framed, displayed as if Abstract Expressionism

This brings us to Emily Kngwarreye, the epitome of this interaction.

Emily painting at Utopia

Born in 1910, Kngwarreye did not take up painting seriously until she was nearly 80. She lived in the Anmatyerre language group at Alhalkere in the Utopia community, about 250 km north east of Alice Springs. Emily's initial artistic training was as a traditional Indigenous woman, preparing and using designs for women's ceremonies. Her training in western techniques began, along with that of the rest of the Utopia community, with batik. Her first batik cloth works were created in 1980.[2] Later she moved from batik to painting on canvas: "I did batik at first, and then after doing that I learned more and more and then I changed over to painting for good...Then it was canvas. I gave up on...fabric to avoid all the boiling to get the wax out. I got a bit lazy - I gave it up because it was too much hard work. I finally got sick of it...I didn't want to continue with the hard work batik required - boiling the fabric over and over, lighting fires, and using up all the soap powder, over and over. That's why I gave up batik and changed over to canvas - it was easier. My eyesight deteriorated as I got older, and because of that I gave up batik on silk - it was better for me to just paint." Acrylic paintings were introduced to Utopia in 1988-89 by Rodney Gooch and others of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.

Whereas the predominant Aboriginal style was based on the one developed at the Papunya community in 1971 of many similarly sized dots carefully lying next to each other in distinct patterns, Kngwarreye created her own original artistic style. This first style, in her paintings between 1989 and 1991, had many dots, sometimes lying on top of each other, of varying sizes and colours, as seen in Wild Potato Dreaming (1996).

Kngwarreye's Earth's Creation
Emily Kngwarreye, Earth’s Creation, 1994, Collection of Mbantua Gallery, Alice Springs, NT.

On 23 May 2007, her 1994 painting Earth's Creation was purchased by Tim Jennings of Mbantua Gallery & Cultural Museum for A$1,056,000 at a Deutscher-Menzies' Sydney auction, setting a new record an Aboriginal artwork. So the frenzy of dealers and get-rich-quick exploiters began.

With success came unwanted attention. Many other inexperienced art dealers would go to her community to try to get a piece of the action, Kngwarreye once describing to a friend how she had "escaped from five or six carloads of 'wannabe' art dealers at Utopia". According to Sotheby's Tim Klingender, Emily was "an example of an Aboriginal artist who was relentlessly pursued by carpetbaggers towards the end of her career and produced a large but inconsistent body of work."

Kngwarreye's Emu WomanEmily Kngwarreye , Emu Woman 1988–89
The Holmes à Court Collection, Heytesbury.

Kngwarreye's Emu TracksEmily Kngwarreye, Emu Tracks, 1991.

Kngwarreye Alatrite  Emily Kngwarreye, Arlatyite Dreaming (Pencil Yam), 1995.

Kngwarreye's Yam DreamingEmily Kngwarreye, Yam Dreaming, 1995.

In 2008, a major exhibition of Emily’s work in Japan extremely successful. 

Kngwarreye exhibit in Japan

Emily exhibition, Japan, 2008.
Margo Neale in Japan

Margo Neale at the Japan exhibition

About the exhibition, patron Mrs. Holms a Court's statements were described thus: “Speaking at the blockbuster opening of the Emily Kame Kngwarreye exhibition in Tokyo last night, the patron of indigenous art declared that the debate about its value was also over. 'This exhibition takes the life out of the debate about indigenous arts versus non-indigenous art,' she said. 'Kngwarreye has been anointed as not just a great indigenous artist, which she is, but a great artist full stop.' Kngwarreye was 'up there with Monet, Modigliani and all the rest', Mrs Holmes a Court added. 'Raises enormous questions of artistic appreciation: critics scorning those who apply Western aesthetic standards to her work, insulting to take works out of ethnographic context, etc.'

What do we do with the fact that we as Westerners respond to these works aesthetically?  This question still rages, as some still reject the idea that Westerners should be allowed to treat these images as commodified art objects, rather than as aspects of Aboriginal communities' religious practices.

Finally, one look at one Aboriginal artist who has been trained in Western art, of which there are now many: Lin Onus, some of the most iconic Australian pieces today.

Lin Onus' Fruit Bats

Lin Onus, Fruit Bats, 1991, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Lin Onus' Fruit Bats, detail

Lin Onus, Fruit Bats, 1991, detail.

Lin Onus', Dingoes
Lin Onus, Dingoes, 1989, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

His themes are Aboriginal and political, but forms are Western--is this Aboriginal art?

Finally, another conundrum: Ginger Riley, a tribal artist but his style is frankly folk art--is this a further development of Aboriginal style?

Ginger Riley's This Is My Country

Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, This is my country – This is my story, 1992.

Giner Riley's Ngak Ngak

Ginger Riley Munduwalawala Ngak Ngak in Limmen Bight Country, 1994.

Australian passport with Uta-Uta          Tjangal’s Yumari design.Australian passport with Uta-Uta Tjangal’s Yumari design.

Finally, I will end with Harold Thomas, designer of the Aboriginal flag, which now flies everywhere in Australia.

Aboriginal FlagAboriginal Flag

Harold Thomas
Harold Thomas, creator of the Aboriginal flag.

Harold Joseph Thomas (born c 1947) is an Indigenous Australian descended from the Luritja people of Central Australia.  An artist and land rights activist, he is best know for designing and copyrighting the Australian Aboriginal Flag.

Thomas designed the flag in 1971 as a symbol of the Indigenous land rights movement.  In 1995 the flag was made an official "Flag of Australia".  He was later involved in a high-profile case in the Federal Court and the High Court to assert copyright over his design.