Tingarri Art on display at the SD Art Museum

Colleen Stein

Colleen Stein

An ancient Australian legend tells of seven young sisters relentlessly pursued by a “dizzy” old man, determined to make all of them his wives.

The faster they ran from him, the closer he followed until they reached the end of the earth and were left with nowhere to go but into the night sky. Upward the sisters flew, turning themselves into stars in an attempt to escape from their follower. Their disguise did not elude the old man, as he saw their trick and transformed himself into a star, continuing to chase them for the rest of eternity. Today, when you look up into the night sky, you can see seven stars lining the path of the Milky Way with a lone star following close behind.

Stories such as this one have been shared for thousands of years among the Aborigine tribes native to Australia. Aborigines do not possess a written language so they instead rely on ancient art forms to recall historical events and practice age-old customs. Aside from ceremonial dance processions and supernatural songs, the Western desert tribes, like the Pintupi, utilized designs and symbols to visually illustrate their beliefs. During their sacred rituals in the desert, the native Australians decorated the thirsty land and windswept hills with elaborate pictures scrawled in the sand. This sand art revealed sacred rites were understood and shared only by fellow tribe members. Once the ceremonies were finished, the sand designs were erased from the earth’s surface to prevent Aborigine secrets from being discovered by non-initiates.

Aboriginal sand art soon evolved into a paintbrush and canvas. Tribal members began shifting their long-guarded shapes and designs into magnificent pieces of artwork to be expressed in homes and passed down to future generations preserving its original form.

The messages conveyed in such paintings supported the Aborigine’s beliefs of the intense relationship of humans with the land, a concept which they called “Dreamtime.” The ancestors who enforced this notion were called the “Tingarri.” These wise men also brought with them important laws of how to live a fulfilling life, one of peace and meaning.

Tingarri art remained a medium privately appreciated by the Aborigines until 1971, when an Australian teacher encouraged his students to research and mimic the artwork of the Aborigines.

The faction that exposed the tribal designs and methods to the masses was known as the Western Desert Art Movement.

To appreciate the creative efforts instilled in Tingarri art, one must understand the history and culture of the tribes who created it.

The Aborigines migrated from Asia to around 30,000 years ago and presently make up two percent of Austrailia’s population. Upon the arrival of European settlers, the Aborigines’ way of life was destroyed as many were brutally murdered and driven from their homeland. Today, much of the Aborigine population inhabits the rural areas of Australia’s central desert regions. These dark, nomadic people suffer from unemployment, poverty and alcoholism.

While past of the Aborigine tribes mimics the history of plight and oppression endured by South Dakota’s American Indians, so does their spiritual beliefs. Aborigines and American Indians place a great emphasis on the animals, nature, and the meanings of dreams and the supernatural.

Many local students and Brookings residents have had the opportunity to be exposed the different styles and techniques practiced by American Indian tribes but have not been exposed to Australian tribal art, which carries much of the same principals but are illustrated in a completely different and refreshing method.

Australia’s Tingarri Art is being presently featured at the South Dakota Art Museum, located at the corner of Harvey Dunn Street and Medary Avenue. The art will be on display to the public until February 23, 2003.