To paint all Aboriginal art with the stroke of a single brush would discount the inherent characteristics, symbols and stories that lie behind Aboriginal paintings derived from the disparate parts of Australia.

There are many styles that permeate throughout Australian indigenous art but the Central and Western desert areas remain firmly rooted at the forefont of the indigenous art movement in Australia.

  • Kintore and Kiwirrkurra in the Western Desert

Perhaps best known in mainstream popular culture by its mention in Midnight Oil’s song ‘Beds are Burning’, Kintore is a settlement in the Northern Territory. Kintore is the centre of the cultural art revolution that took place in the Western Desert and is presided over by prominent members of the Papunya Tula movement.

Kintore is a centre for artists from the Australian Aboriginal group Pintupi.  A dominant discourse throughout Pintupi art is the Tingari cycle – a compelling tail of the widespread journeys of Pintupi ancestors as they tread the vast expanse of the Australian Desert. Tingari-themed art is predominantly geographic with circle and line motifs. Traditional colours such as red, yellow, white and black pervade charcoal and clay canvases in Pitupi art.

Pintupi artists construct their paintings by masking closely guarded tribe secrets and facets of their private life with journey lines and dotting. In Pintupi culture, only ordained people have the right to paint and the deepest layer of any painting is only ever understood by the initiated.

Hailed as the most remote community in Australia, Kiwirrkurra is a small community located in the Gibson Desert of Western Australia. A smaller community of Pintupi artists reside in Kiwirrkurra.

  • Balgo Hills in the Western Desert

The unobtrusive Balgo Hills is a self-contained Aboriginal community in Western Australia. Aboriginal art originating from Balgo Hills is best known for its dazzling and uninhibited splashes of colour.

Balgo Hills is a congregation point for several indigenous tribes from the Kimberley and the Western Desert. As a result of the innumerable different cultural groups that call Balgo Hills home, the art it manufacturers has a vigorous, bold and stimulating style with vibrant colours and strong iconic imagery throughout.

  • Utopia in the Central Desert

250 kilometres north east of Alice Springs, Utopia is an Aboriginal homeland where indigenous female artists produce distinctive pieces of work that are the prized possessions of locals and international patrons across the world.

Renowned artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye paved the way for art in the region, atypically dominated by female artists. In a contemporary abstract style known as ‘awelye’ – translating to mean women’s ceremony – fine dotting work characterises Utopian paintings as the female painters pay homage to their embedded role in the community as food gatherers as well as their respect for their homeland and the food it provides them with.

Utopian women are at the forefront of the Australian Indigenous Contemporary Art movement where their works are unusual interpretations of the ‘Dreamtime’ concept. Rather than art in proximate regions where stories are represented in an iconic or figurative sense, Utopian art is embodied by a more spatial sense.

  • Yuendumu in the Central Desert

The prevalence of acrylic paint, vibrant colours, heavily textured surfaces and fine as well as delicate dots and lines permeate the art of Yuendumu, a town in the Northern Territory. One of the larger remote communities with a thriving community of Aboriginal artists, Yuendumu is largely made up of Walpiri Aboriginal people.

A story that remains deeply ingrained in Yuendumu paintings is the journey of their ancestors to the sacred Mina Mina site. Mina Mina is the birthplace of the famous digging stick – a wooden handcrafted tool used by women to dig for edible bush food – and female Yuendumu artists choose to portray this story by incorporating bold iconic images such as digging sticks, coolamons and bush potato into their works.

As an entity, Yuendumu art stands apart from other indigenous forms of art as it has a distinctive colour palette as well as strong traditional iconography.


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