Paint up - Aboriginal Dance

Many Aboriginal communities have been painting their bodies for thousands of years. For these communities, body painting is not necessarily just about visual artistic creativity, it relates to conventions, laws and religion. It is a means of communication.

In dance, designs are used to change the surface of the body to tell a story. These designs are not exclusive to dance but are found on many different everyday and ritual objects. Contemporary body painting in Aboriginal dance draws on these traditions. 

 

For Indigenous Australians, spirituality centres around the land. The nurturing and life-giving capacity of even our hardest terrains has been the mainstay of Indigenous religious beliefs. Incorporating the earth into spiritual ceremonies is done by many tribes using various ochres. Different coloured ochre is applied to various designs according to your totem so that spirituality is awakened during the paint-up. There are no time constraints, no boundaries; there's an apparent timelessness about the ritual.

Stephen Page, Artistic Director, Bangarra Dance Theatre

We never dance without ochre on... because that's what we have been doing for a long time, like a thousand years. Body paint for us is really important for our culture, for sharing with other people too. Some people don't recognise me when I do painting, when I am performing. They can see when I am dancing, it's like they thought I am an old old man. Because when I am there, it's like my soul is very strong and I watch the audience. The paint makes me more older, older looking.

Djakapurra Munyarryun, Bangarra Dance Theatre

I am from the Tharawal community and was born in Sydney and grew up in Campbelltown. I have studied traditional dance from Aboriginal elders and communities in Australia and have researched and performed Aboriginal dances for many years but found there was no traditional Indigenous dance from Sydney. I have developed and have recreated a new style of dance and body design that relates to the locality of Sydney. The lyrebird is an animal that I feel I have a close affinity to. I use natural clays and ochres, some of them which need grinding, and I apply them with my hand or a paintbrush. In the past, I have collected pipeclay near Campbelltown just near where I used to live and down south. I find ochre pit, yellow and red clays. I apply the white clay as a splash to cover the body and then often use my own hand prints, red and brown ochres (the colours of the lyrebird) for my performance. I apply the ochres with an intuitive feeling for whatever dance or purpose I am preparing for.

Matthew Doyle, Musician and Performer

In our performance, each body painting represents our totem, like a certain part of the country on the Island. And not only that, that is how we identify ourselves, the way we communicate to each other: we know we are of one family. Each family group carries one totem and if you see someone with the same body painting, you know they are part of your family.

Dreamtime stories, like every body painting that we got on there, they relate back to the Island like a certain story place on the Island where that certain body painting is: it's part of our country and there is a story place there... it's important to us because we have to look after that certain story and the totem.

Grayson, Luuli, Mornington Island Dance Company

 


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