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Desert Symbols

Desert Symbols

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Traditional symbols are an essential part of Central and Western Desert Aboriginal art. When the Dreaming Ancestors appeared on the earth, they wore brightly painted designs on their bodies. These designs are applied to many different surfaces today.
Traditional symbols are an essential part of Central and Western Desert Aboriginal art. When the Dreaming Ancestors appeared on the earth, they wore brightly painted designs on their bodies. These designs are applied to many different surfaces today.

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Published by: api-3700483 on Oct 14, 2008
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03/18/2014

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Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA
Western & Central Desert Aboriginal Art Symbols
by Denise Lajetta, Assoc. Curator January 2006

Traditional symbols are an essential part of Central and Western Desert Aboriginal art. When the
Dreaming Ancestors appeared on the earth, they wore brightly painted designs on their bodies. These
designs are applied to many different surfaces today such as the body of a person taking part in a
ceremony, a sacred object such as a shield, rocks and cave walls, or the ground itself. Through the use of
ancestrally inherited designs, artists continue their connections to their Ancestral lands and to the
Dreaming.

One of these symbols is the U shape to indicate a person. Sometimes we can tell the person is a man if
he has two long, straight lines beside him to indicate his spears. Sometimes we know the person is a
woman because she has one short line beside her which indicates the digging stick she uses to uncover
edible tubers and other foodstuffs known as \u201cbush tucker\u201d. An oval shape beside the U shape would
indicate a woman\u2019s carrying bowl.

Another common symbol is that of concentric circles inside each other. This symbol indicates a very
important place where something significant happened in a story about the Dreaming Ancestors. This would
be a place with a name that begins with a capital letter. The place can be a rock, waterhole, campfire, sand
dune, but whatever it is, an Ancestor did something important there that matters and has significane in
Aboriginal life today. The painting might be part of a story, and it might teach a lesson about what not to
eat, or how to behave with one\u2019s family members, where to find food, and so on.

Symbols used in Papunya Central Desert art -
from "Papunya Tula" by Geoffrey Bardon

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