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About the Video Clip:

Video Clip Synopsis:
Indigenous art is like topographic mapping of land and culture. Michael Nelson Tjakamarra works at painting concentric circles which represent sacred sites.

2min 1sec

Dreamings, Through Indigenous Art is an excerpt from the film Dreamings - The Art of Aboriginal Australia (30 mins), produced in 1988.



Dreamings - The Art of Aboriginal Australia: The art of Aboriginal Australia is celebrated in Dreamings as we journey into the sacred heartland of Australia to see traditional artists at work. The artists talk of their work, its association with the land and its spiritual connection with their people, the animals and plants. The film explores the meanings behind the works, from acrylic dot paintings of the Central Desert to cross-hatched bark paintings and burial poles of northern Australia, as it allows the viewer access to the oldest continuous art tradition in the world.

Dreamings - The Art of Aboriginal Australia is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: The Arts
Year: 7-8
Strand: Visual arts
Theme: Artists at Work

Key Concepts

Indigenous Culture; Symbolism; Heritage; Change and continuity

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Visual arts, Level 5: Characteristics of visual arts works made within a particular culture and in a particular historical period
NSW:Visual arts: Stage 4, Critical study, Historical study
NT:Arts responses and analysis VA 5.3, Arts in Context VA 5.4, VA5+.4
Qld:Visual arts: VA 4.3, VA5.3
SA:Arts in context 4.6,5.6
Tas:Visual art: Arts criticism and aesthetics, Past and present contexts (Bands B & C)
Vic:Responding to the arts 5.3, 5.4
WA:Responding, reflecting on and evaluating the arts RRE 6, 7. 8

Context / Background Information

Indigenous art is sometimes created for particular occasions and may have a transient purpose. For example, the designs composed in sand or painted on dancers' bodies before and during ceremonies may have secret/sacred meanings that are forbidden to individuals outside a specific clan, gender or age group. Such designs are usually obliterated once the ritual is over. However, other notable Indigenous art, like the famed paintings in Kakadu rock shelters, has existed for thousands of years. In both cases, the significance of the artwork lies in reverence for and passing on dreamtime knowledge rather than attempts to create decorative pieces for posterity.

The video clip is an important example of the transitions occurring in Indigenous art. While the artist is shown using canvas and a range of acrylic colours rather than rock faces and natural pigments, his work retains the critical function of 'teach[ing] my little boy his dreaming. So it can carry on forever.' The artist's secret/sacred purpose is also indicated in his statement about the few skin groups who are allowed to paint this particular dreaming.

The video clip is a valuable resource that can be used to contrast Indigenous views of the land with European artists' responses to the Australian landscape. It will assist students to understand that some Indigenous paintings are like topographic maps containing profound cultural and spiritual meanings.

Discussion Pointers

How can a particular place be associated with significant personal memories? From your own experience, give an example of a special place that has good or bad memories for you.

What do you believe are the most important things about your own heritage and culture? Which stories and customs are so important that they should be handed down to future generations? What would you like your children and children’s children to learn?

Can you think of examples of famous books, buildings, documents or artworks that people in Australia and other parts of the world want to preserve for the future? Why do they want to do this?

One of the mysterious features of Indigenous paintings like the ones you see in the video clip is that they represent the land from above (a bird’s eye view). In a flat land like Australia, and before the invention of aeroplanes, how might Aboriginal people have reached this understanding of their land?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. A symbol can be a visual representation of an idea, thing or organisation. Draw ten different symbols that you know about and explain what they mean.
  2. Watch the video clip and make an annotated list of colours and symbols that the artist uses in his paintings.
  3. Borrow a topographic map from the school’s geography department (or find some examples on the Internet). Examine the map carefully and note its important features. How is the map the same or different to the way the artist in the video clip maps his land?
  4. Find some other examples of Indigenous paintings (eg. Rover Thomas, Emily Kngwarreye, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Papunya Tula artists). What possible meanings about land and dreamings are contained in these artworks?
  5. Examine some European landscapes of Australian desert landscape (eg. Fred Williams’ Pilbara series, Sidney Nolan Burke and Wills Expedition, Perished, Central Australia; Arthur Boyd Waterhole with Birds near Alice Springs). How are these paintings different to the work of Indigenous artists you have looked at?

Modules That Use This Clip

English Year 7-8, The Arts Year 7-8, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10