Symbols in Aboriginal Bark Painting

There are a lot of symbols in Aboriginal bark painting. These include abstract patterns as well as sacred designs which can identify a tribe or clan or tell a story about the Dreamtime. There are literal elements, as well, such as images of animals and men. The symbolic elements are among the most interesting in such paintings.

Australian Aboriginal culture is very much concerned with what is called “Eternal Dreamtime”. This concept states that the world is not as real as the average Westerners conceive it to be. Instead, it is like a big dream, and its reality is dubious at best. A lot of Aboriginal art depicts Dreaming or Dreamtime stories, which are tightly interwoven with Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and traditions.

A simple pattern such as wavy lines with punctuations of dots, for example, are typical symbols in Aboriginal bark painting that may depict a story concerned with the journey of a deity or spirit and that significant events that occurred in that journey.


Symbols Used in Aboriginal Bark Painting—the value of initiation

In Aboriginal art and culture, there is a lot of importance given to initiation. For example, if an artist is uninitiated, he can only paint so-called “outside” stories, such as stories which can be told to children. When he becomes initiated, however, he is then allowed to paint an “inside” story, or a story that is only revealed to initiates. Such stories are restricted to outsiders.

Aboriginal bark paintings have several components, although not all of these elements are present in every painting. These are as follows:

Foundation and borders. The base of the painting is the ground, which is usually a layer made of ochre. There may be a border, which is usually colored yellow. Oftentimes, there are also dividing lines which sectionalize the painting into different feature blocks. These blocks may depict certain aspects of the story described in the painting.

Figurative designs. These symbols in Aboriginal bark painting depict objects and beings that are either mythological or real. Abstract symbols, in contrast, may also describe similar objects, but may only be recognizable to those who are familiar with them.

Geometric designs. These designs are symbols in Aboriginal bark painting that may have different meanings depending on the painter and his tribe as well as its context in the story being presented. They may either represent mundane things or be highly symbolic. A circle, for instance, can represent an egg, a nut, a mat, or a waterhole. A circle and a line may be a representation of a kangaroo’s waterhole, but may have more complex or an altogether different meaning.

Clan designs. These designs may be composed of a number of geometric designs, symbols, as well as crosshatching. Such designs serve to identify the tribal origin of the painting, as well as provide the right context by which other symbols in the painting may be correctly interpreted.

Crosshatching. These are fine lines that are closely painted to each other and intersect one another. These designs are a challenge to describe, but they do produce a profound impression on those who see them. Particular patterns may be found only in particular clans, and some are sacred designs which are not shown to non-initiates.

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