Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Keely. Keely Wonders, “What is Aboriginal Dot Art?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Keely!
Has anyone ever told you a story? What was it about? Many stories we tell are old family memories. Others are fairy tales or legends. Sometimes, we make up stories off the top of our heads. Other times, we read them to each other from books.
People of all cultures have special stories they pass down. Aboriginal Australians have a long history of telling stories. They call it "Dreaming." Many Dreaming stories are thousands of years old. Most stories are also special to tribal religions.
Europeans came to Australia in 1788. At that time, Aboriginal people had been there for 60,000 years. There were 270 tribes, and each one spoke a different language. Only tribal members were allowed to take part in Dreaming. That way, each tribe made sure only its members knew its stories. If they drew symbols during Dreaming, tribal members had to erase them. Most people drew these symbols in the dirt. That way, they could wipe them away after Dreaming.
When Europeans moved into Australia, they wanted the Aboriginal people to become more like them. In 1959, they settled a town called Papunya. They asked Aboriginal tribes to move there. In Papunya, the Europeans hoped the Aboriginal people would become part of European culture.
However, Aboriginal people wanted to hold on to their own cultures. That was difficult in towns like Papunya. They were suddenly surrounded by Europeans. The tribes were also living with each other for the first time. Slowly, parts of each tribe's culture began to disappear. Today, only 18 of the original 270 languages remain strong.
Still, Aboriginal people held onto their Dreaming stories. In 1971, a group of men in Papunya shared their stories with each other during an art class. They drew their Dreaming symbols in the dirt. They wiped away the symbols after each story. Their teacher noticed what they were doing. He wanted the men to use the symbols in their artwork.
That's where Aboriginal dot painting began. Using acrylic paint, these men made paintings that had deep religious meanings. However, they wanted to protect their heritage. To do so, they hid their Dreaming symbols in the dots of each painting. That way, only other people from their tribe could truly understand the message of the painting. Soon, the practice of Aboriginal dot painting became widespread.
Aboriginal dot paintings can't be fully understood by outsiders. However, many still enjoy the paintings as art. The art form was one of the most popular of the late 20th Century. Today, Aboriginal artists continue to conceal their Dreaming symbols.