Context & Culture Homepage

Subject: CCE - Context & Culture - 2015

VUIT Digital Arts, Victoria University

Teacher Name: Lisa Cianci - email:
Education Manager: Adam Hutterer - email:

Class Website -

Class 02 - Indigenous Art - meaning and creativity

Class Activities

Today we will investigate concepts of creativity relating to Australian Indigenous Art. There are many types of art that fall into this broad category, and the recorded history of creative practice in this culture is very ancient.

cave painting

Cave Painting (photo by Chris Jule) image from this URL:

my country

Kathleen Petyarre, My Country - Bush Seeds, 2005, from this URL:

There is much debate about whether some forms of Indigenous Art are actually "art" or "craft" or whether there is a blurring between these definitions and the work lies somewhere in between. This discourse is not specific to Indigenous Art, but it is an outstanding example of the problematic nature of creative practice that people are engaging with.

Another important factor to consider is how we in the 21st Century view this art which has very ancient roots. Indigenous Art has a strong relationship to place - the land, the landscape, the natural environment and the people's relationship to these things is an obvious reading and we understand the meaning of certain works to be almost documentations or maps of place, of stories and narratives and the "dreaming" which is the folk lore and mythical history of a culture.


Mary Anne Nampijinpa Michaels, Lappi Lappi Jukurrpa (Lappi Lappi Dreaming), 2011, from this URL:


The Aboriginal Memorial, collaborative work, 1998, from this URL:

There is also the factor of time and how the meaning of an artwork can change over time. Indigenous Art is being viewed from different perspectives now - as ancient art-forms, and as modern, contemporary art-forms and this is where a lot of debate is occurring.

Because many indigenous artworks share similar properties or qualities with contemporary art-forms such as Abstract Art, there is a certain audience that appreciates Indigenous Art for its contemporary aesthetic qualities, whereas others revere these art-forms as evidence of a continuum of creative practice that has not changed that much for over 40,000 years - it's a strong link with an ancient past that we all share. There are also newer forms of Indigenous Art that have been influenced by European settlement (and the global information age), and new technologies (canvases, acrylic paint, etc.) are reinterpreting traditional ways of being an artist.

one dollar

The old Australian One Dollar bill that plagiarised the image on the right by artist David Malangi, from this URL:


Shirley Banalanydju, Lungurrma, from URL

If we think about these broad categories (which I will discuss further in next week's class notes), you can look at different aspects of Indigenous Art from all of these perspectives:

Storytelling: the Dreaming, performance, stories, visual artworks, combinations of all creative forms to pass on a tradition and the history of a culture

Making: skills involved in creating visual artworks, in weaving and making pigments etc.

Creating: artists developing their own styles to depict traditional stories and the Dreaming

Inventing: using the resources in the local environment to develop different methods and techniques of creating art

Imagining: Dreamtime stories involve using metaphor, allegory and fable to explain the spiritual, natural and moral aspects of life

Remixing: traditions, skills, methods are passed on through millennia and each artist synthesises what they have seen and learned into their own creative practice.

Collaborating: people work together to create something greater than the sum of the parts - for example: performance involving visual art, dance, music, storytelling - it requires a community of practice.


Tommy Michell, from this URL:

womens ceremony

Walangkura Napanangka / Women's Ceremony, from this URL:


Class Exercise

Begin research into Australian Indigenous Art with a focus on the history of creativity and what this means when we view and interpret Indigenous Art. You will need to select one or more artists to focus your essay on. You may find these artists in the Gallery today, or you may choose artists that have work online or in publications.

Your selection is part of the assessment task. Ideally you would select artists that have been written about in books, journal articles, newspapers, online sites of note such as galleries, museums and professional blogs, or documented in film/video/sound recordings. Remember to consider your sources and their validity and veracity as art critics or commentators. The quality of resources you use to inform you about this topic will affect your interpretation and your end product - so try to find good reference materials!

Here are some online references to get you started, they are by no means an exhaustive list - just a starting point for your own self-guided research.

Writing/righting a history of Australian Aboriginal Art

Indigenous Art in Practice & Theory

Finding a Voice and a Place in the Contemporary Indigenous Art World

How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art

Twenty Five Years and Beyond: Papunya Tula Painting

Are Dot Paintings Traditional Aboriginal Art?

The Problem of Aboriginal art



Gallery Visit

NGV Australia (at Federation Square)

We will visit the NGV today to view the Indigenous Art exhibit currently on display:

Homework / Readings

Your homework will be to research for your essay and read the above texts on the indigenous art currently at the NGV and any texts listed above that relate to your essay.


Texts On Creativity

Kaufman, J.C. & Sternberg, R (eds), 2006, The International Handbook of Creativity, Cambridge University Press
Can be partially viewed for free on Google Books: International Handbook of Creativity: eBook

Sternberg, R (ed), 1999, Handbook of Creativity, Cambridge University Press
Can be viewed for free on Google Books: Handbook of Creativity: eBook

Strong, B & Davis, M, 2005, History of Creativity in the Arts, Science and Technology: Pre-1500, Kendall Hunt Publishing


Wikipedia page (useful for some introductory links):