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Aboriginal Art Essay Research Paper Art Religion

Aboriginal Art Essay, Research Paper

Art, Religion, and the Dreaming

“The Dreamtime, or the Dreaming, is crucial to the understanding of Aboriginal art. Art is a means to the Dreaming, a way of making contact with this spiritual dimension, and yet in turn it is the product of the Dreaming .” Howard Morphy opens with these words to his chapter called Foundation: Art, Religion and the Dreaming, in his book, Aboriginal Art. His words not only carry an extreme amount of truth and legitimacy they also signify something that is sacred to the fascinating community, we call the Aborigines.


Before analyzing the art created by these people, background must be introduced to understand more clearly the meanings and influences behind their creations. Religion and the Aboriginal concept called Dreamtime are two main influential factors behind the art that is constituted by the Aborigines. Dreamtime, (or wangarr, which is the Yolngu word for Dreamtime,) like most religious concepts, is something that can’t be translated by a short phrase. It involves much, much more, including exploring Aboriginal ideas about the nature of the world. It is a very complex concept and sometimes hard to interpret for people not living within this community.

The people living within the Yolngu tribe, who inhabit the eastern part of Arnham land, have their own concept of Dreamtime. They feel the word or connotation; ‘Dream’ is quite inappropriate. They believe wangarr goes farther than just a dream, they believe it is part of their reality.

Morphy sums up the true reality that Dreamtime represents to the people of the Yolngu tribe in the quote below:

“The Dreaming exists independently of the linear time of everyday life and the temporal sequence of historical events. Indeed, the Dreaming is as much a dimension of reality as a period of time. It gains its sense of time because it was there in the beginning, underlies the present and is a determinant of the future; it is time in the sense that once there was only Dreamtime. But the Dreamtime has never ceased to exist, and from the viewpoint of the present it is as much a feature of the future as it is of the past the Dreamtime is as concerned with space as with time-it refers to the origins and powers that are located in places and things.”

Death and Transition

Along with these convictions, the Yolngu believe that there was a time on earth where humans did not exist. They are certain that humans emerged and transformed from within the earth. And in a sense they believe that their past lives were ones of animals, rocks, and trees and that they lived on a much grander scale than they do today. However, along with living this grandiose lifestyle came even grander consequences. The bodies of the dead formed the land that the Yolngu live and survive in and the rivers were formed from their blood.

The process of death is an extremely complex journey within the Yolngu tribe. The soul of the being usually returns to the land of it original birth. From there it is faced within many trials like avoiding the spear of a fish or being eaten by a bird. Though each spiritual journey is different there is one main projecting similarity, that which is overcoming some sort of adversity.

Not only did the ancestral beings provide the landscape of their homeland; they instituted many of the rules and procedures by which humans in this as area still live by today. The mythological beings of the Dreamtime also created the human beings who were to succeed them on the earth.

This concept of Dreamtime, or wangarr, is the basis behind the aboriginal religion. These powerful processes of producing new lives from ancestral beings along with accommodating the acknowledged change is the main force behind a religion that has maintained its relevance in the rapidly changing world of the aborigines.

Yolngu Art Forms

Art within the world of the Yolngu signifies much more than just a hobby or a pastime it represents life, death, and visions from Dreamtime. Art is at the forefront of Yolngu civilization and is a representative of their existence.

Paintings by the Yolngu symbolize scenes from the past and their ancestral beings. Objects such as diggings sticks and canoe paddles can also be representative of ancestral beings. Though these objects have significant meaning they are only a small image of the convoluted ancestral being. It is quite difficult to imagine ancestral beings as fixed in a single form.

As the art of the Yolngu has moved through time, the gap it has filled has changed. It is quite unfeasible to analyze the art of the Yolngu without taking account the recent desirability of this ancient art form in the European marketplace. The art of the Yolngu now exists as two realms and though it may be framed differently from the viewpoints of the Yolngu and the European Australians, members of both societies live in the same “art world”.