• Wanyubi MARIKA | Rirratjingu people | NT b.1967 | Mumutthun (Paddle splash) (detail) 2006 | Natural pigments on bark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta) | 150.9 x 60cm | Purchased 2007. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist


Breaks away from traditional representation of physical objects, exploring instead the relationships of forms and colours.


The aesthetic qualities of artworks relate to sensory perception, such as beauty, as opposed to reason and intellect, such as meaning.


Pitjantjatjara and Yakunytjatjara people from central Australia, the traditional owners of Uluru.


Creator beings who travelled across the unformed world in both human and non-human form, shaping the landscape, creating people and making laws for social and religious behaviour.


The intentional borrowing, copying and alteration of pre-existing images and objects. It emerged in mid-twentieth-century America and Britain with the rise of consumerism and the mass production of images from the media.


A very typical example of a certain person or quality that is universally repeated over time.

Art Nouveau

A French school of art and architecture popular in the 1890s, characterised by stylised natural forms and graceful outlines of objects such as leaves, vines and flowers.


An art form in which traditionally non-artistic natural and manufactured materials and found objects are assembled into three-dimensional structures.


Ceremony is ritual performance. Ceremony may be performed as part of gatherings, harvest festivals, death and mourning rituals, stages of initiation, disputes, strengthening family or group ties and other reasons. Most celebrate or explore aspects of the dreaming, and all have their roots in traditional law and dreaming narratives. Participation in ceremony allows access to the dreaming in the present. Participants, objects and ceremonial grounds are decorated as part of ceremony and many regional art traditions have roots in these ceremonies.


A term that refers to the emulation of ideas, attitudes and traditions associated the artistic activities of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Complementary colours

Pairs of colours that strongly contrast one another, usually when a mixed or secondary colour (like green) is placed next to a primary colour (like red).

Conceptual art

In the 1960s, artists in North and South America and Europe used their work to question the notion of what art is. In 1967, artist Sol LeWitt gave this new art a name in his essay ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’. He wrote that, ‘The idea itself, even if it is not made visual, is as much of a work of art as any finished product’.


A usual way of doing something.


A multipurpose vessel or dish with curved sides used to carry water, fruit and nuts; also used to cradle babies.


The Counter Reformation was the period of Catholic resurgence in the sixteenth century and was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. Its chief aims were to increase faith among church members, end many of the abuses to which the leaders of the Reformation were against, and uphold some of the principles rejected by the Protestant churches, such as veneration of the saints and acceptance of the authority of the pope.


Country is the place where — through heritage connections and relationships — a person belongs. Today, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live away from their country, but many still have strong bonds with their country.


Creation narratives are dreaming stories handed down through generations that explain the beginnings of life on earth. Every major landmark in Australia is part of a creation narrative, and is the product of the deeds of ancestors or gods. Many of these stories cover great distances, and people from one area will own a part of the dreaming, while their neighbours will own another related part. Similarly, men and women often have ownership over different aspects of these stories. Within these stories, rules and codes form the basis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law.


Cubism was an innovative art movement pioneered by artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Artists began to look at subjects in new ways in an effort to depict three-dimensions on a flat canvas. They would break up the subject into many different shapes and then repaint it from different angles.


A supreme being, like a god.


People who identify with the customs, traditions and heritage of a particular country, who have moved to new locations.


Dots are an iconic artistic device in Western Desert painting. Although dots are one of the most universal forms of mark-making, and are encountered throughout Aboriginal Australia, the technique of ‘dot painting’ in Central Australia has developed into a significant regional style. Similar to rarrk in Arnhem Land, dots were originally derived from ceremony and used to veil certain aspects of paintings from the early 1970s, but have now developed into the primary mode of painting for many artists.


The division of something into two opposed or contrasted aspects (e.g. reality and imagination, truth and fiction).


Dreaming is a translation of the Arrernte language word tjukurrpa, which refers to beliefs about ancestral creation. Similar concepts with different names exist throughout the country. Based on Aboriginal ideas about the nature of the world, it is a complex concept of great significance within Aboriginal society. Making art is a means of accessing and continuing connections to the dreaming.

en plein air

[Fr.: ‘in open air’/ outdoors] A term applied to the practice of painting out of doors, so that nature is confronted directly and changing effects can be observed and recorded.


In 1953, anthropologist WEH Stanner used the term 'Everywhen' to explain the concept of the Dreaming. ‘Everywhen’ was also coined in response to the use of the word Dreamtime. The Dreaming, or Everywhen, cannot be ‘fixed’ in time and cannot be exactly defined. Many words are used in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages to describe the complexity of spirituality, beliefs and world views that are derived, equally and at the same time, from the past deeds of great ancestors and from the fabric of everyday life, now and into the future.


Appealing to experience or to the senses


An international movement in art, architecture, literature and performance which flourished between 1905 and 1920, especially in Germany and Austria. Revolting against Impressionism, expressionists sought to depict how the world felt rather than how it looked. Characteristics include extreme angles, flattened forms, garish colours and distorted views.


Describes art which represents a human figure.


A kind of artwork. In art history, the term can also refer to a type of picture that shows scenes from everyday life.

Haus Tambaran

Men’s spirit houses in many of the villages along the Sepik River

Hyper-realism (Photorealism, Super Realism)

The precise depiction of real life in sculpture, printmaking and painting in an unusual or striking manner, which originated in the United States in the mid-1960s.


A nineteenth-century art movement associated especially with French artists, who captured movement and the changing qualities of light in paintings characterised by their small, bright dabs of colour.


Initiation refers to ceremonies through which a person is inducted into full membership of their society. As they grow older, people participate in more and more ceremonies and pass through different stages of initiation until they reach old age, when they are thought to resemble ancestral beings themselves.

Inner logic

A relationship that can be perceived between elements within an artwork.


The Kwoma people’s name for a spirit house


An artistic movement of the 1960s focusing on abstract painting and sculpture, during which artists created simplified forms using basic shapes and monochromatic palettes of primary colours.


Missions were church settlements established by European Christians to teach the traditions of Christianity and European values to Aboriginal people as part of the ‘civilising’ mission. These church groups often worked with government agencies and enforced government policies on missions and reserves, often to the detriment of Indigenous people and their culture and beliefs.


A shimmering effect of perception that occurs when viewing a pattern, such as a set of lines or dots superimposed on another set of lines or dots, where the sets differ in relative size, angle, or spacing.


Native title refers to the recognition of traditional ownership of land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under Australian law. It overturns the colonial concept of terra nullius, which refused to recognise the pre-existing rights of Aboriginal people to their land and country. Native title evolved from efforts by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and their supporters, over many years for land rights and recognition of prior habitation. The Mabo decision in 1992 was the first to recognise native title.


A treatment of forms, colours and space, as they appear or might appear in nature.

New British Sculpture

This term applies to the work of young British sculptors in the 1980s who, in reaction to minimal and conceptual art, adopted a more traditional approach to materials, techniques and imagery.

Op art

Short for optical art, is a style of visual art that uses optical illusions. Op artworks are abstract, with many better known pieces created in black and white.

Organic form

An appearance that suggests something in nature.


An unbroken view of a wide area and its surroundings.


A critical term that takes into account the processes and effects of colonisation.


Crosshatching (rarrk) is used in Arnhem Land art to create areas of pattern of fine parallel and intersecting lines. The technique is often used to hide secret parts of a painting that should only be seen by the initiated. Although the use of crosshatching is not confined to the Yolngu, the Yolngu communities of north-eastern Arnhem Land have recently developed a refined version specific to their people.

Serial art

Artwork created as part of a larger group that uses repetition and series as a system of organisation.

Social realism

An international art movement that drew attention to the everyday conditions of the poor and working classes during the nineteenth century; critical of the social structures that maintained these conditions.

Social utopianism

Social utopianism is often described as the presentation of visions and outlines for imaginary or futuristic ideal societies, with positive ideals being the main reason for moving society in such a direction.


Song is one of the primary means by which Aboriginal people express and maintain their identity and culture. Like other types of performance, it is mostly associated with ceremony.

Still life

An arrangement of objects that may be either natural or man-made.

Stolen Generations

‘The Stolen Generations’ refers to children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were taken from their families between the 1890s and 1970s, in accordance with the Australian government’s policy at the time. These children were raised on church missions or by foster families, in an attempt to assimilate them into white Australian society.


An art style that seeks to access and represent the subconscious in art.


The use of a symbol to stand for something else.


Possessing an arrangement of corresponding parts, to give a quality of being well-proportioned and regular in form.


Synchromism draws its name from a complex theory of colour and music, in which timbre or tone was equal to hue, and pitch equal to luminosity. Using a complicated mathematical calculation, which related sensation and emotion to the 12 ‘notes’ of the chromatic scale (the ‘chromatic colours’ in which, for example, C represented red and A represented blue-violet), the aim was to develop a form of painting that could emotionally move people in the same way music did.


A Portuguese word meaning 'wood fencing' or 'boarding'.


A detailed study of the surface features of a geographical region.


An animal or other natural species with which individuals identify to mediate their relationship with ancestral beings and the land, and everything in it.


Occurring every three years.


An imaginary place considered to be perfect or ideal, outlined in a book by Sir Thomas More in 1516.

Visual device

Something in an artwork that achieves a particular effect.


People of Eastern and Central Arnhem Land.


Motifs based on animal shapes/forms; ascribing animal form or attributes to beings or things that are not animal.


Caruana, Wally. Aboriginal Art. Thames and Hudson, London, 2003 [rev. ed.].

Kleinert, Sylvia and Neale, Margo (eds.). The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2000.

Morphy, Howard. Aboriginal Art. Phaidon, London, 1998.

My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia [exhibition catalogue]. Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2013.

Oxford Art online: