The Aboriginal people are one of the two indigenous groups that occupied Australia and the surrounding islands before the country was colonized by the British. There are about 500 different Aboriginal people who have unique norms and cultures, and they are organized in many vast clans (Sayers, 1994). Before the British invaded Australia, the Aboriginal people were distributed all over the country, but the highest population lived along the coast. The primary source of livelihood for these people was through hunting and gathering, and they protected their environment to ensure a steady flow of food and clean water. The Aboriginals faced a lot of problems after the British invasion, mainly because the latter grabbed land, claiming that it was empty before they arrived in the country. The loss of their ancestral land was devastating, and the invasion by diseases led to the death of many people. It is estimated that the Aboriginals were more than a million, but today there are approximately 60,000 people of that tribe (Sayers, 1994). Apart from land grabbing, the Aborigines faced police brutality where people were massacred for various reasons like resistance. Many more were imprisoned, tortured, and killed while in prison. One of the safest ways for resistance against the colonialists was through expressing their agony in music, dance, visual arts, and story-telling. The various forms of art were also used to maintain the people's culture in different ways. Arts used by the Aboriginal people played a significant role in the continuing resistance to colonization and in the maintenance of cultural vitality.
Art played a significant role in the Aboriginal people's resistance to colonization in various ways. First, the multiple forms of art used were meant to critique the colonial law that the British had imposed on the natives. The Aboriginals used different types of art like visual, music, and story-telling to keep a historical record of the events that occurred during the colonization period (Cohen & Somerville, 1990). Some of these events are massacres, denial of political rights, and segregation, among others (Smith, 2007). The outcomes of the colonization by the British was also represented in arts to depict racial segregation, criminal injustices, and dispossession (Green & Saggers, 2007). The Aboriginal artists were keen to make colonialism and the criminal justice system as the primary subject matter of the art. Art was a powerful medium for these people to express their views and the troubles they were experiencing, especially due to the hostility of the colonizers.
During the colonization period, art was a rich source of ideas, and to date, it helps historians to have an insight into the oppression that Aboriginals faced in their journey of resistance during colonization. The images that were drawn depicted oppression, and they assist in the comprehension of political dynamics (Smith, 2007). Visual arts represented the experiences that the Aboriginals went through, primarily through victimization and other criminal events like massacres, which left hundreds of thousands of people dead. Today, historians interpret the work of Aboriginals in various ways to comprehend the state crimes that occurred during the colonial period. The various forms of art like painting, music, sculptures, and dances, helped them to express themselves since these people are a society that does not rely on written texts (Smith, 2007).
Music and dance were effective ways of the Aboriginals expressing themselves before and during the colonization era. However, the British banned the use of music since it depicted the cultural genocide that was going on at that time. In fact, these people were forbidden from singing and performing their traditional music, and as a result, some traditional genres were lost. Song lines told different stories and experiences faced by the people, especially the vents of the colonization period (Macintyre, 2004). Story-telling was also a significant form of art during the colonization period that assisted the natives in their resistance after the invasion of their land by the British. Regarding the Aboriginal culture, story-telling was a vital component of their history (Cohen & Somerville, 1990). Children were told stories regarding their origin, the Aborigine land, the norms, religion, and values, among other things to assist them in understanding their heritage and the journeys the elders took to be successful. The stories were passed from one generation to another, and they were an essential aspect of the Aborigine culture and a significant source of entertainment too. The Aborigines also valued visual arts as a part of their culture, where they expressed their norms, values, and beliefs in rock painting, wood carvings, jewelry, and other art forms.
The Role of Visual Arts in Continuing Resistance to Colonization
As mentioned earlier, visual arts played a significant role in resistance during the colonial era (Sayers, 1994). In the late nineteenth century, a sketchbook that contained various pencil drawings was recovered, and the works in it were by a young Aboriginal man. The sketches represented the people's culture and their experiences during the British colonization (Cunneen, 2010). Some of the drawings were about the ongoing massacres, and others were a representation of the several concerns regarding the deaths of people who were in custody at that time. The drawings cover a range of issues and depict how the Aboriginal people were dispersed by the Native Police (Allen & Butler, 2003). Dispersal, in this case, means the shooting of people who were perceived to be at the wrong place and were seen to be a nuisance. Most of the images of the death of the natives in custody were drawn in the late 1880s and early 1990s. At that time, political agitation had heightened, and many Aboriginals were murdered in prison between 1897 and 1991.
One of the most famous paintings is Death in Custody that was initially drawn as a sketch by Oscar (Cunneen, 2010). Oscar had initially named the drawing as "Police Boys Doing Their Duty." The image depicts an Aboriginal person in a cage in the inside of a cell. There is another Aboriginal man on the back of the wall. Beside the caged man stand three police officers with handcuffs and nooses for hanging the prisoners. The Death in Custody's primary purpose was to depict the injustices that were going on for the convicted natives (Allen & Butler, 2003). The images could also be used to campaign against the inhumane murdering of Aboriginals by the British Colonialists.
Another visual art example by Oscar was "Boss Ordering Boys to Bathe (Cold Weather)" that contains the image of the artist who was a small boy at that time and another man Gus Glissan. During colonization, there was massive disruption, and the Aboriginals' land was repossessed (Cunneen, 2010). The disruptions and violence also led to the forcefully capturing of natives like Oscar, and they were forced to adopt a different way of life. Through drawings and sketches, the Aboriginals were motivated to fight and resist colonialists for various reasons (Macintyre, 2004). First, they wanted to preserve their culture, values, and norms. Secondly, their ancestral land was essential, and they wanted to get it back from the colonizers. The paintings were also a motivation to resist oppression and to fight for their freedom.
The Aborigines also used visual art to protect their land and claim ownership since the colonialists were grabbing their ancestral land (Smith, 2007). The Europeans who occupied the area claimed that it did not belong to a specific person or community, and the issues portrayed the Aborigines as non-existence and people with no rights. Large parts of the Aborigines' land were declared as crown land, and their resistance would lead to a rebellion (Macintyre, 2004). After some time, the Aborigines were displaced from their land by the white settlers, and they became culturally and economically marginalized. Any resistance from the natives called for brutal punishment from the colonialists, especially through mass incarceration and other forms of repression and punishment. During the colonization years, the Aborigines were humiliated and demoralized as the British forced them to live like a "white man" and adopt the latter's culture and norms (Allen & Butler, 2003). The drawings of the land were on canvases, and their primary purpose was to show the men's and women's knowledge regarding matters associated with the land. The indigenous visual images represented the various colonial interests, and they were a piece of evidence that the land belonged to the naive Aboriginals.
Various people drew sketches on paper, walls, rocks, and other surfaces in response to the injustices that were happening to their fellow country people. The arts represented the various struggles that were being encountered like mass incarceration, murder in captivity, forced imprisonment, and the failed criminal justice system (Reynolds, 2013). The people could, therefore, have a base and reason for their resistance since they could see what was happening to their fellow people in the hands of British colonialists. One of the most sensitive issues that were represented in visual art is racial discrimination towards the indigenous people by the colonialists. The racial discrimination led to the denial of political, civil, and legal rights since the colonialists had put very many restrictions, and the natives could not enjoy their citizenship (Macintyre, 2004). The restrictions of movement, access to proper healthcare, and voting continued as the natives were denied basic government services. Such grievances were represented in paintings, drawings, and sketches since active resistance would lead to mass incarceration and other forms of punishment.
The Role of Visual Arts in Cultural Vitality
Visual art made by the Aborigines dates to more than 80,000 years ago when these people first settled in Australia. Most of the art was paintings on rocks that archeologists recovered after several centuries. The Aborigines were illiterate and had no form of written texts. Therefore, they used rock art to convey their culture, norms, and other critical traditions to the next generations (Turner, 2010). However, the first Aborigine's painting was done in 1930. Previously, ochres were used as body paint and on rocks and barks of trees. A variety of colors except red were used since the latter signified blood. Traditionally, the Aborigine paintings were drawn on rocks, sand, or dirt and were used together with other forms of art like music and story-telling (Turner, 2010). The combination of different types of art was used to pass information and give moral teachings, especially to the children, whereby they were educated about right and wrong behaviors. The lessons behind the art were passed from one generation to the other within specific cultural groups. For instance, an Aborigine artist could not make a painting representing a story that did not belong to their family lineage. The Aborigines had several symbols to represents different things in the society. Some of the items that were symbolized included honey ants, spears, shields, digging sticks, meeting places, waterholes, animal tracks, and water holes, among others.
The various types of rock paintings were stencil art, dot-painting, and cross-hatch. In dot-painting, stories were created through the joining of points to form specific patterns. Rock engravings were also a famous type of...
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