Ancestral Rock Paintings The Wandjini figures


Aboriginal rock paintings appear earthly and innate to their surroundings, yet often mysterious and supernatural. The naturalness is partly due to its unique ragged canvas. The rock or cave wall is from nature, formed from various stones, surfaces, consistencies, heights and lengths. Wet ochres and rocks as the painting tools also signal an attachment to the tangible world. Whether protected within a cave or openly exposed, all rock paintings are vulnerable to the conditions and will of nature, the sun and light, the temperature and climate. The paintings must survive and evolve like the neighbouring shrubs, streams and trees.

The cloud-like figures marked upon the rocks in the Kimberly region in North Western Australia evoke another realm entirely. Under the open sky and from the dusty earth the Wandjina spirits emerge from the rocky canvases. Theses solemn figures, up to seven metres in length, bare wide round eyes which envelope the nose, and wear halos of radiating lines around their heads. Hauntingly mouth less, Wandjini carry a gaping oval form under their neck, set within their broad haughty shoulders. Painted upon white in striking red ochre, and occasionally yellow and black, the Wandjini appear eternal and indestructible, created by an intangible hand.

Indeed it is said that several spirit figure paintings are not creations of a human artist at all rather they are actual ancestral beings. The humans who paint and trace these paintings simply abide the sacred responsibility passed onto them through spiritual land inheritance. In the case of Wandjina it is said that these mythic beings, associated with fertility, arose from the sea and came down from the sky to shape parts of the landscape and the according rituals to be followed. They then returned to the land fusing into rock shelters of various clans and territories, some remaining as outlines or impressions on the rock walls.

Regular repainting of these walls ensures the fruitfulness of the land, the natural flow of seasons and the conception of spirit children, as well as the continued aesthetic existence of the paintings themselves. In ancestral Aboriginal rock paintings such as the Wandjina tradition, we see the tangible and transcendental unite and the past, present and future collide.

Aboriginal word glossary