Saturday, April 29, 2017

Aboriginal Bark Paintings
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Introduction [1]
Aboriginal bark painting is a practice that goes back thousands of years. They were originally practiced by Australian aboriginals on the interior part of a tree, just below a stripped bark. Bark paintings were typically used for ceremonial purposes and is still being used today in some areas such as Arnhem Land. The earliest record of bark painting was during 1800 to 1804 where a French artist saw and recorded the craft etched on a bark standing over a grave.

Purpose and Creation
Aboriginal bark painting used it for instructional and storytelling goals. The paintings which can be drawn using different mediums show aspects of the aboriginal life. They tell stories typically told to children during the wet season. Most paintings carry the sign of the clan, essentially naming the people responsible for the art.

Creating these artworks not only take patience but precision. Typically, the bark is taken from a eucalyptus tree. Once removed, Australian aboriginals would choose the best section of the bark before preparing it as a canvas. This was usually done by trimming and putting the bark against the fire to dry it out. Painters typically used basic colors — red, white, black and yellow — usually taken from the local environment.

Design
Traditional aboriginal art almost always contains a story. This is, in fact, part of its charm among enthusiasts. The paintings are composed of several elements, each of which with a corresponding meaning. Some of the most commonly used include:
• Dividing lines
• Border
• Figurative designs
• Featured blocks
• Ground
• Cross hatching
• Clan designs
• Geometric designs

Each of these elements may represent a specific aspect of the total design. Some of them might be easy enough to decipher, but others are well hidden and may not be obvious at first glance. For example, some people might simply see a series of lines and curves but for those who know the symbols, a story is already told through the lines.

Stories
There is a strict code of conduct when it comes to aboriginal art pictures. An uninitiated man or female can only tell stories that are told to children. These stories may be ‘light’, and therefore, are allowed to be told to the public. However, the more interesting stories are the ones that only an initiated man is allowed to paint. The catch here is that they can only paint the story but not orally tell it to anyone who is not initiated.

Purchase
There are a number of outlets that will sell Aboriginal bark paintings. One of these outlets is Indigenous Instyle. This site also contains lots of information about Aboriginal Art and Culture.


Aboriginal Bark Paintings
The National Aboriginal & Torres Islander Art Award celebrates the talents and diverse artistic interest of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders. Since its inception in 1984 it has undergone a radical transformation from being a local and territorial event to gaining national and international recognition as showcasing the Australian indigenous artistry to the world at large.

Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Australia now encompassing a variety of cultural and physical settings from urban wastelands to sparse populated environs to indigenous practiced lifestyles to sophisticated international influences. There is not a single straight jacket that reflects the current mob.

The art of bark paintings reflects a traditional indigenous sliver from a myriad of Aboriginal and Torres Islander artistic endeavors, with the subject matter being traditional (see introduction) rather than contemporary-urban.

Artist: Djawida Nadjongorle Nawura; Title: Dreamtime Ancestor (1985)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 180 cm x 56 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, purchased 1985.
Awards: Joint winner First Prize - Peter Stuyvesant Cultural Foundation Award; 2nd National Aboriginal Art Award.

Artist: Djardi Ashley Wodalpa; Title: Blue Tongue Lizard (1987)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 152 cm x 82 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, purchased 1987.
Awards: Winner of First Prize - 4th National Aboriginal Art Award.

Artist: Mutitjpuy Mununggurr; Title: The Djang'kawu at Balana (1990)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 160 cm x 85 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, purchased 1990.
Awards: Winner of First Prize (supported by The Robert Holmes a Court Foundation - 7th National Aboriginal Art Award.

Artist: Les Midikuria; Title: Borlong the Rainbow Serpent (1992)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 185 cm x 96 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, purchased 1992.
Awards: Winner of the Telecom Australia First Prize, 9th National Aboriginal Art Award.

Artist: Yanggarriny Wunungmurra; Title: Gangan (1997)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 306 cm x 108 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory, Telstra Collection, purchased 1997.
Awards: Winner of the Telstra First Prize - 14th National Telstra Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.

Artist: Bardayal Lofty Nadjamerrek; Title: Crocodile and Fish (1973 - 1974)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 52 cm x 43 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, gift of Dr Graham Webb 1987.

Artist: David Malangi Daymirringu; Title: Gurmirringu (2008)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 126 cm x 67 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, purchased 1967.

Gulumbu Yunupingu; Title: Gark - The Universe (2008)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 145 cm x 50 cm.
Collection: Private Collection.
Awards: Exhibited at the 25th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander Art Award.

Artist: John Mawurndjul; Title: Ngalyad - The Rainbow Serpent (1988)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 152 cm x 82 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, purchased 1988.
Awards: Winner of the Rothmans Foundation Award, 5th National Aboriginal Art Award.

Artist: John Mawurndjul; Title: Mardayin at Mukkamukka (1999)
Medium: Natural pigments on bark.
Size: 168 cm x 95 cm.
Collection: Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory Collection, purchased 1999.
Awards: Winner of the Telstra Bark Painting Award, 16th Telstra Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander Award.


Reference
[1] http://www.indigenousinstyle.com.au/aboriginal-art-history/aboriginal-bark-painting

[2] Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award 1984 - 2008: Celebrating 25 Years, Charles Darwin University Press, Darwin (2011).