Indigenous Art: Dots and Beyond

Dot painted lizard magnet
Purchased from Marra Dreaming
I am a firm believer that anything on the wall in a classroom needs to be useful - and shouldn't be there unless it has a purpose and the students are aware of what that is.

For instance, you can purchase a set of fantastic anchor charts and put them on the wall before the school year starts - but if you never teach about them or use them - they are just taking up valuable space. Plus, anchor charts are best created as a class in my opinion anyway.

But (and don't you love how there are always exceptions?) what about the awkward corner that is difficult to get to - where writing can't be seen and you honestly don't want to get up on the ladder too often to put something up?

Artwork. Yes, that is one simple word but wow! What a great idea! In my experience students have very little exposure to actual art in the classroom. They might look at a book, see a glimpse of one in a documentary, if very lucky take a trip to a local art gallery....but for many none of these things happen either due to where they live or the costs involved.

This is the first of two posts about artwork in the classroom. To start with I want to tackle an art perspective that I am over being used to represent a culture.


How many times have I seen books and information by both Australian and overseas authors who look at "dot painting" as "aboriginal art". Okay, so yes there are many, many examples of dot work that is aboriginal art - but why on earth aren't we teaching our students that the talent of aboriginal artists goes way beyond this over simplified label?

On a recent trip to Adelaide (that's in South Australia) with my kids and mum, I was over shopping. It does happen! I wanted for my kids to see something different (they were just 15 months at the time but eager to explore the world!). A quick internet search and we marked out a few places to go - a few galleries and a museum.

Marra Dreaming
This is a local indigenous art centre. They hold classes as well as sell artwork.

In order to protect the artists' works I have overlaid a watermark - you can view the paintings discussed below on Marra Dreaming's website - see the link at the bottom of this post. Please be respectful of the copyright of these artists and not use them in commercial resources without obtaining permission, and not claim these artworks as your own.

Contemporary Art

Frill Neck Lizard by Kristy McKenzie
I'm starting with this piece of art because when walking through the gallery it was the one that caught my attention and my kids' attention. When I get back up to Adelaide I would seriously love to have an official print of this artwork for the classroom!

This piece is titled "Frill Neck Lizard" and is by artist, Kristy McKenzie. Kristy is Yankunytjatjara descent. What a piece of art! This artwork is a great example of contemporary indigenous art.

The possibilities of classroom art discussion are endless with this one but the first thing that comes to mind is looking at warm colours. She has very subtly blended the colours and I love the depth.

Okay, I love the lizard too!

The other discussion could be in literacy by looking at inferring. What time of day is it? What are the clues? Not to mention creative writing! Just what is the lizard saying?

Still Waters by Cherie Watkins

This next piece is titled "Still Waters" and is by artist, Cherie Watkins. Cherie is of both Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna descent. She has been exhibiting her work since 1974! She demonstrates that contemporary art is not confined to the younger generation.

As a contrast to the previous painting this one is great for looking at cool colours. In fact an art lesson comparing the use of colours with these two painting would be fantastic.

Together As One by Raylene Snow
Here is a modern take on the traditional dot painting style. This is a painting by artist, Raylene Snow and entitled "Together As One". It has a wonderful blend of tradition and contemporary art. I love the use of earthy colours and the layering effect. This is the type of artwork you can look at again and again and keep noticing something different and new.

For most students this would be a good example to bridge the traditional vs contemporary bridge. It subtly introduces a new modern take.

Of course, I still love teaching about the traditional style of dot painting. It is very much ingrained into Australian society as being indigenous. My point is though is that there is more to indigenous art then the one style and as educators we should be ensuring we provide opportunities to the students we teach to learn about all styles rather than focusing on a stereotypical viewpoint.

If you visit the Marra Dreaming website you will also see a collection
of handicrafts and silk work also done by indigenous artists.
A short profile about each of their artists is also available on the website.

Magnet by Raylene Snow
Purchased from Marra Dreaming
Beaded bracelet by Samantha Snow
Purchased from Marra Dreaming

Marra Dreaming is located at 22 Commercial Road, Salisbury, South Australia.

Click the logo above to visit Murra Dreaming's website.

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