Animals in Aboriginal Art
A teaching resource
The aim of this article is to give teachers background and resources to teach about Animals in Aboriginal art. It includes templates for an in-class activity and a PowerPoint slideshow.
Traditional Aboriginal people were hunters and gatherers. They had an intricate knowledge of animal behavior. Animals depicted in Aboriginal art are those that are a part of a songline or Dreamtime story. Aboriginal animal art was often an illustration of this story told to initiates during a ceremony.
Songlines or Dreamtime stories are more than tales they are oral histories of religious importance. These stories have a deeper meaning known to initiated men and learned through song and ceremony.
Different clans have different songlines and therefor depict different animals in their art. When you see an animal in aboriginal art it is worth remembering it isn’t just an animal it is a part of a much larger spiritual story.
It is truly not surprising animals are in so many aboriginal songlines and dreamings. Aboriginal people have co-existence with their environment for over 50,000 years. They have developed a deep knowledge of the animals and their habits.
History of Animals in Aboriginal Art
Aboriginal Rock Art is some of the oldest existing art on earth. The very earliest Aboriginal rock art depicts animals. Some of this rock art even show animals that have since become extinct.
A famous example of this is the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger. A Tasmanian tiger appears in rock art in the Pilbara in Northern Australia. It went extinct in this area eleven thousand years ago at the end of the last ice age.
Right: Animals in Arnhemland Rock Art
Central Australian or Dot Dot Aboriginal Animal songlines
Teachers need to be aware that traditionally animals in Central Australian songlines and art were not visually apparent. The animal in Central Australian or dot dot art was often only depicted by the tracks it left or in the context of the story. In choosing an art activity for students I think it is much better to draw on a different style of aboriginal art.
X-Ray Aboriginal art Animals
In Western Arnhem Land art animals show the inside and outside parts of the body. This traditional way of depicting animals is also called X- ray art.
By looking at examples of this type of Aboriginal Art certain patterns appear that define this distinct aboriginal art style. By following the same rules used by aboriginal artists students can produce aboriginal art in a more traditional style.
Background is monochromatic or a single colour
Base layer of the animal is white above the monochrome background
Details use four different colours. Red Yellow and black white
Details infilled using cross-hatching and parallel lines
Aboriginal Animal Art Templates
I have attached some Aboriginal Art Animal templates based on art by aboriginal artists which you are welcome to use.
Students should be encouraged to fill in areas with cross-hatching or parallel lines rather than solid blocks of color.
Aboriginal Art Animals summary
Aboriginal have painted aboriginal art animals for at least 30,000 years. The animals depicted are not just animals but a part of important stories of song lines. Different aboriginal groups had different art styles. Finally Animals were often an important part of aboriginal creation stories, which is why they are in Aboriginal art.
All images in this article are for educational purposes only.
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