All of contemporary Aboriginal art is informed by a seemingly elusive concept known as The Dreaming. The Dreaming is both the creation epoch in which the world was formed, the Aboriginal equivalent of Genesis, as well as the spiritual dimension of contemporary Aboriginal life, which is accessed through ceremonial performance meant to reinvest the world with creative energy, renewing plants and animals, and bringing the rains.

The first events of The Dreaming established archetypal patterns and precedents from which Aboriginal people organize themselves culturally, spiritually, and in relation to their environment. The Dreaming is the underpinning of all Aboriginal culture, from ritual to contemporary art. No matter how seemingly abstract Aboriginal paintings may appear, they all have an underlying narrative based on mythological creation stories referred to as Dreamings (or a Dreaming in the singular). Each artist has custodianship of segments of this vast mythological mosaic which maps the Australian continent, connecting Aboriginal people to each other and to the land. Yam Dreaming, Possum Dreaming, Rain Dreaming, and Fire Dreaming are all stories that describe how things came to be as they are today at specific places in the landscape.

 

 

The participants in these Dreaming stories were spirit ancestors, the embodiment of the first plants and animals, and natural elements, whose actions set the natural order in motion. When these ancestral spirits finished their business, they sank back into the ground from which they had emerged or turned into rocks and trees, creating the physical features of the contemporary landscape. The routes of their ceaseless journeys, the places where they camped, fought, and loved, the tracks they made, became charged with their sacred power. They left behind them the songs, dances, and designs with which to recount their stories, providing the basis for Aboriginal ceremonial life.

 

 

The vocabulary of contemporary Aboriginal painting is derived from these ritual designs and practices which are themselves derived from The Dreaming. The waves of shimmering dots, the maze patterns, the lyrical lines, the passages of sensual, light dappled color that activate contemporary Aboriginal paintings are all meant to deliberately disorient or dazzle the senses and provoke a sense of the power and mystery inherent in The Dreaming and the resonant ancestral power of Aboriginal Australia's sacred places.

David Betz, Curator

 

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