Storytelling and Symbols in Australian Aboriginal Art

Indigenous Australian art is typically centred around storytelling and this is often conveyed through the use of symbols. Clarise Tunkin’s painting, Minyma Marlilu Tjukurrpa, relates to the legendary figure of Marlilu, a Pitjantjatjara ancestral creation figure, with evocative power. Marlilu is responsible for the formation of many of the landforms in the local area, and Tunkin recalls visiting Marlilu’s cave with her mother when she was younger.

Here are what some of the symbols in the artwork likely represent:

  • Connected circles: resting place
  • Concurrent circles: campsites/waterholes
  • Arrows: emu track
  • Star with circles: honey ant site
  • Horseshoe: person
  • Line + horseshoe: woman

At first, the eye notices the larger symbols within the artwork like the connected resting places and campsites, but as you take a closer look, the spaces between those larger elements are filled with smaller symbols like people. Through the composition and symbolism, the artist vividly depicts a story and landscape.

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