The dotted motifs of much of today’s Aboriginal modern design work has become
the trademark of the contemporary Aboriginal Art movement. Its iconic status
developed from a culture stretching back into the history of an ancient land,
evolving and weaving into dreamtime stories.
The imagery of the
Aboriginal culture, depicted in ceremonial body art and many of the sacred sites, rock and cave
paintings, used very few colours, as they were often made from what was available
The colours were often mined from ‘ochre pits’, being used for both
painting and ceremonies. The ochre was even traded between clans and at one time
could only be collected by specific men within the clan. Some of the ochre pits
throughout Australia can
be viewed today as tourist attractions.
There were variation in the symbolic representation of some rock art and
paintings, depending on the tribe
or region of Australia that you belong to, which is still evident today in the
modern art work. Yet there is also similarities of the art work from different
regions that are thousands of kilometres apart.
the development of the modern Aboriginal art movement, symbols took on a variety
of colours, with some symbolic representation taking on a more realistic
rendering. New generations of Aboriginal artists were developing their own style
of painting, which saw whole communities producing abstract works that fit well
with many modern galleries and museums.
The use of dots and the modern abstract equivalent was to tell a story, more
often then not, a physical representation of an oral tradition that is passed
down from generation to generation. Of course, some of these stories are not for
the uninitiated, and although they may be depicted in the paintings, they are
not revealed to the non-initiate. It has been discussed in publications
As the Papunya painting movement developed in the 1970s,
dotting was increasingly used to obscure meanings and to hide some of the
symbolism that was not meant to be exposed to the un-initiated.1
Some of the symbols used in Aboriginal
art appear to be the same, but can mean different things, such as the symbol
used for woman, adult and child. The child is depicted as a smaller version of
the adult/woman symbol. There are of course variations on symbols such as that
for a child, which could also be represented as a dot enclosed with dots. Even a
small circle can be used to depict a child. Children are usually easy to
identify in many painting, as a smaller symbol to that of the woman or adult,
found in the same painting.
When viewed in monochrome
other symbols can look similar, such as the circles within circles, sometimes
depicted on its own, sparsely or in clustered groups. When this symbol is used
and depending on the Aboriginal tribe you belong to, it can vary
in meaning from campfire, tree, hill, digging hole, waterhole or spring. The symbol
may be clarified further by the use of colour, for example water may
be depicted with the use of the colour blue.