Having started around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, Aboriginal art is the oldest form of artistic expression in the world. It is also a language in itself, communicating through symbolism and iconography hidden withing beautiful patterns and colors, while following meticulous rules of each artist’s tribe. Along rock paintings, the most recognizable among the Aboriginal works of art are dot paintings, made of small dots in traditional Aboriginal colors: yellow (representing the sun), brown (the soil), red (desert sand) and white (the clouds and the sky).
Dot paintings can be painted on anything: on rocks, canvas, paper or on a person’s skin. They mostly show images of animals, lakes and the stories and legends of the Dreamtime. Dot painting originated at the time of white settlement, when the Aboriginal people feared that the newcomers would be able to understand the secret knowledge held by the Aboriginal people. The use of dots was originally meant to hide the picture’s meanings from white Australians and double-dotting obscured any form of meaning but was still discernible to Aboriginals.
Aboriginal art requires its own education, and there is an abundance of knowledge that must be acquired before engaging with a piece of Aboriginal art. Most Australians and tourists might think it is just dots and fine lines. This is far from the truth, as only artists from certain tribes are allowed to adopt the dot technique. Where the artist comes from and what culture has informed their tribe will depend on what technique can be used. It is considered both disrespectful and unacceptable to paint on behalf of someone else’s culture. All Aboriginal artwork tells a story, and each artist has their own story to tell, as Aboriginal art is based on the artist’s individual journey, which may be about their parents, adoption, warriors or daily life chores such as fishing. In rarer cases, the art is reflective of their tribe or captures the heartache of the stolen generation. As Aboriginal people do not have a written language, art is very central to their culture, a form visual storytelling. Symbols are central to Aboriginal art, and some of them cross the tribal boundaries: eagle feet, water holes and digging sticks. Depending on the audience, each piece of iconography will differ in meaning, but the essence of the story will be the same.