Dots, Trance, and Magic – Aboriginal Paintings

Songs of a Secret Country

Last week, I visited the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, the only museum in the United States dedicated to the exhibition and study of Australian Aboriginal Art.

I was the only visitor for much of the time I was there and wandered from one painting to another, undisturbed and in awed silence.

This painting was created by John John Bennett Tjapangati, and consists of dots arranged into connecting circles. When you look at this canvas long enough, the dots and circles seem to move and vibrate, coming alive.


A more colorful painting by Jennifer Mintaya Connelly symbolizes the story of the Seven Sisters. The U shapes and circles here are similar to the body paintings on women who participate in ceremonies involving the Seven Sisters story.

Sustaining Sisterhood

Sustaining Sisterhood

Details from the Sustaining Sisterhood painting:

This painting by Puntjina Monica Watson is dedicated to a sacred creation story associated with the snake ancestor.

Sweet Creation

Sweet Creation

Details from Sweet Creation:

These few paintings are a small sample of what the Kluge-Ruhe Collection has to offer. I hope it will give you a taste of the wondrous and magical art work that give us glimpses of the secret ceremonies and spirituality guarded so wisely by Aboriginal people

Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge:  Variations.


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32 Responses to Dots, Trance, and Magic – Aboriginal Paintings

  1. Selina says:

    Beautiful images.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tish Farrell says:

    Thank you Annette for this gallery. I don’t usually do this, but it’s made me think you might be interested in Australian artist’s Suzanne’s blog:

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Tina Schell says:

    Loved the detailed shots Annette, really beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Suzanne says:

    It certainly looks like it would be a beautiful exhibition to visit. I particularly liked the painting “Sustaining Sisterhood”. Good Aboriginal art is always wonderful. I have heard it said that when you fly over outback Australia in a light aircraft parts of the country look like Aboriginal paintings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I can see landscapes in there. Supposedly, many of the paintings depict waterways, wells, and other landmarks. I suspect that there are many layers hidden in these paintings, from the more concrete (such as geographic features) to the most secretive aspects of ritual and ceremony. One of the main collectors of this Kluge-Ruhe collection (I forgot which one) shared that, initially, he was told one meaning for the painting he acquired. Years later, he was given another meaning by the artist and when asked about this difference, the artist told him that he was only now ready to hear that meaning but had not been ready to hear it in the past. Isn’t that telling?!


      • Suzanne says:

        Yes, the circles often depict waterholes and other landmarks. You are right about the other layers of meaning. This type of painting on canvas first developed in central Australia in 1970s. A young white man called Geoffrey Barton went to work on a remote community named Papunya . There he worked with some of the male elders to develop painting Dreaming stories on canvas.
        Some years ago I went to see some of these paintings on show at the National Gallery of Victoria. They were very different from the bright paintings we are now familiar with. The entire show had a strong spiritual feeling to it. Some of the Dreamings depicted are very secret and their meanings are not shared even now.
        In the show you went to I saw a photo you took of a painting about the Seven Sisters Dreaming. I’ve seen interviews with the woman who does those paintings on TV. She has a very highly developed spiritual understanding about the Dreamings she is showing in her paintings.
        As you noted, not all meanings are told to gallerists that show these works. Deeper meanings are often withheld until such time when the artists want to reveal them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for all of this wonderful information, Suzanne. I was also told that at first there was a huge debate (in the 60s-80s) among the male aboriginal painters and their community about how much to expose through these paintings. And that women did not start to paint until the 90s? By then that debate had been settled to some extent and women felt freer to develop their own styles. I could see a difference between the male and female paintings, in colors, style, patterns…


  5. da-AL says:

    hypnotic & lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. shoreacres says:

    I once followed the blog of a Chilean photographer in Australia who traveled the Outback and roamed the areas outside Alice Spring, interviewing artists and photographing their work. There was a woman he featured whose work was otherworldly, and entrancing. Unfortunately, he was one of those who lives to platform hop, and between his moves from WordPress to Blogger to Tumblr to Google+, I can’t find any of his archives.

    No matter. What you show here is a fine representation of the work being done in that part of the world. Sometimes it reminds me of beadwork, and sometimes of West African tribal art. Sometimes, it just is what it is.

    I have a friend in Virginia who’s never mentioned this. I’m going to be sure he knows about it.


  7. Beautiful artwork. If I am ever visiting Virginia, I look forward to exploring this museum. Love the colors in the Sustaining Sisterhood painting.


  8. Pingback: Dots, Trance, and Magic – Aboriginal Paintings – Vietnam Travel & Trade Portal

  9. L Young says:

    Really awesome!


  10. Sue Slaght says:

    I really appreciate you showing the close ups of the art. So intricate and it left me wondering at the enless time and patience it would take to create these beautiful pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I really like this art! Thanks for sharing Annette.


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