Aboriginal Art on a String


Jewellery such as necklaces as well as paintings are an extremely important component in Aboriginal culture. Traditionally it was customary for necklaces to be worn by both men and women during ceremonies relating to sexuality and fecundity. This is one of the few practices of special significance which is maintained in contemporary Aboriginal culture.

Shells, feathers, grasses and reeds. plant seeds and dried fruit, snake vertebrae and various other materials which are found in the desert and coastal regions of Australia can all be used in necklace making however the availability of such items dictates what can be used and when in the production of jewellery.

The most important part of the necklace is the string or hair used. It symbolises the relatedness of people and families. The string can be plain or embellished with seeds. Wearing the necklace represents a connectedness to the land and its components and also family and relationships between people. Many necklace makers prefer to use red coloured seeds because it represents ancestral power and expresses imminent change or danger. Bean shaped seeds are also used as they can be found in large qualities and can be found in varying red hues, it is these seeds which are shared among families to represent relatedness.

The production of necklaces is a seasonal occupation which is mainly carried out by the women in a community. In the desert regions of Australia seed production and development are dependent on sufficient rainfalls. Women and children gather seeds and pods for necklace making while searching for bush tucker using their traditional knowledge. Gum nut seeds are collected while they are still green, they are sorted, cleaned, dried and then drilled or poked using hot wire to create beads for necklace making.

Artists living in Alice Springs explain that the seeds are collected for in and around town. They are taken home and lacquered, using acrylic paint geometric patterns are added to the Gum nut seeds such as concentric circles which represent camp sites, curved lines which represent rain or underground water, or straight lines which represent routes to camp sites or places of significance, or U shapes which represent people. Aboriginal artists apply this basic set of symbols which can have multiple meanings depending on there context to their artworks to tell stories of the dreamtime.

Alice Springs artists have become especially well known for their elaborate designs, precision dotting technique, and colour contrasts. Some artists add an extra seed which does not match with the necklace either differing in seed type, colour, pattern, size or shape. There are several reasons this may occur, for instance it may be a left over bead from a previous batch or have been made by a relative and added in their memory or simply for good luck.

The colouring of necklaces can also be interpreted. Green is very unusual as it represents new growth after rain and is not generally used for necklaces, blue may represent water; yellow and pink or purple hues are associated with sunsets and flowering grasslands at particular times of the year. By lacquering the seeds or pods the bright colours and contrasts are enhanced making them more eye catching.

Your gift item is accompanied with a Central Art Gift Card Certificate

» View our Art on a String Gallery to browse our collection.

Each jewelry item is accompanied by a Central Art Gift Tag.

Aboriginal word glossary