Aboriginal Body Art Symbols

Aboriginal body art symbols mean a lot of things to Australian aborigines. They refer to stories and they differ accordingly to a particular tribe or clan that uses them. Traditional Aboriginal art use the body, among other mediums, as a canvas to convey these stories.

Most Aboriginal art symbols are concerned with the so-called “Dreamtime”—the creation myth of the Aborigines which also forms the basis for their cosmology and worldview. In addition, their laws and traditions are expressed in these art forms. This visual expression of law, culture, and cosmology supplement the oral transmission of songs, tales and legends during ceremonies and rituals.

Aside from the body, Aborigines also paint on barks, rocks, the ground, and other surfaces. These symbolic drawings, paintings, and engravings make the surfaces sacred for becoming transmitters of Aboriginal beliefs, culture and myths. Similarly, body art transforms the body into a sacred transmitter of myths and culture.

Meanings of Aboriginal Body Art Symbols

Symbols used in Aboriginal body art activate the power of the Aborigines’ ancestors and deities. They express group identity and individual identity. They show the relationship of the tribe with the land. Each painting in a certain body part is used to express certain messages along with dances, movements, rituals and ceremonies. Non-initiates can interpret the symbols but their meanings are dependent on their knowledge of the ritual and the mind of the ancestors.

Aboriginal art symbols can be classified as geometric and figurative. The former consists of particular shapes, such as circles, lines, dots, arches, and waves. Their meanings are usually reserved for initiates. Figurative designs, on the other hand, are actual objects or animals, such as boomerangs or snakes. It is not only the shapes or the figures that convey certain meanings; particular colors also have their own symbolisms. For example, spiritual meaning may be assigned to the color red, while the ancestors may be associated with the color white. Designs are also based on the particular tribe and ceremony where they are used.

Artists often have the dilemma of having to explain their artwork to uninitiated buyers. This is a problem because artists are usually not allowed to interpret their work. Revealing their hidden meanings to non-initiates compromises the sacredness of the art. This is also true for Aboriginal body art symbols, but there is lesser problem on this aspect because outsiders are rarely privy to the sacred ceremonies of these people.

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