Desert art (also known as dot painting) is recognised internationally as an integral part of Aboriginal Art. The artists are from central and western desert, approx 230km radius of Alice Springs.
Though visually beautiful, the paintings have a deeper purpose. Using an aerial view and iconography, they are part of the Dreaming stories related to the artist’s country and the cultural teachings passed down from ancestral spirits.
Traditionally the paintings were created for Ceremonies. Ceremonies are like schools for Aboriginal people. In the absence of a written history, Aboriginal people have successfully passed on their culture for over 60,000 years through song, dance, storytelling and body and sandpaintings at ceremonies. Growing up, an aboriginal child attends various ceremonies where they’ll receive cultural and practical teachings, specific to their age group and gender.
Flattening the earth, the elders use a stick to draw symbols to illustrate a combination of information and moral teachings. A variety of elements including bird down and plants from the surrounding area is used to decorate the design. The result is a thickly textured artwork which is danced over during the period of the ceremony, making it an ephemeral artwork and thus maintaining the cultural secrecy of these events.
During the 1950’s and 60’s, Aboriginal people from the Desert region were removed from their ancestral land by the Australian government and forced to live in settlements. One such settlement was Papunya where in early 1970’s an art teacher, Geoffrey Bardon noticed the Aboriginal men drawing symbols on the ground when telling stories. Bardon encouraged the Aboriginal people to start putting their paintings on art board, hence the start of Desert Art movement.
Many of the Aboriginal artists have gone on to be extremely successful, with exhibitions both here in Australia and overseas. The paintings are often abstracted to disguise the sacred designs and hence protect the real meanings of the artworks.
At Waradah Aboriginal Centre, we hold a selection of educational packages where the history of the Desert Art movement is discussed. In addition to our education packages, we carry a large collection of Aboriginal paintings in our gallery.