Symbols in Aboriginal Sand Art

Symbols in Aboriginal sand art are significant features of the continuous depiction of communication between the Great Spirits of the ancestors and humans. They tell the story of the “Dreamtime” myth, which signifies the creation of the Aboriginals as well as their history and culture.

Meanings of Symbols in Aboriginal sand art

Aboriginal art symbols are significant because they are used to mark a sacred spot, location of a waterhole, direction to a certain place, or the illustration of Dreamtime stories. Aboriginal people travel often to distant lands. Events that occurred during these travels, and rituals performed were recorded in sand and body paintings, thus, preserving the traditional Aboriginal art and culture. There are several symbols seen on these paintings. Here are some examples with their corresponding meanings:

Concentric circles. These are very common symbols in Aboriginal sand art because the circles depict the Dreamtime stories. However, the symbols are quite hard to understand. A deeper knowledge of the Dreamtime stories will help in deciphering the meaning of these concentric circles. This should not be confused with circles that represent a campfire or mark of a certain destination.

U-Shapes. These represent a place where the Aboriginal people meet or a gathering around a campsite.

Spears and digging sticks. These are indications of gender roles. Spears represent Aboriginal men, while digging sticks represent the women gathering food.

Lines and waves. They are either pointed upward or used to connect two circles. Lines indicated upward can either represent an upcoming rain or a fire rising upward. Waves can either mean a body of water or a snake.

These symbols can be paw prints or kangaroo prints. When used in sand art, they depict a spot where animals are domesticated.

Symbols used in contemporary sand painting

This traditional form of iconography is preserved so that the new generation will appreciate Australian Aboriginal culture. Sand painting is now done using acrylic paint, thus ensuring that the symbols are permanently seen or showcased. Some artists engraved this traditional art form in their canvases, still incorporating the true meaning of this sacred art form. After all, symbols in Aboriginal sand art are not mere art forms but are divine. They tell more than a map or a destination but a story of creation and the treasured history of the Aboriginal people.

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