instagram pinterest youtube facebook twitter


Australian aboriginal art in Queensland
The main aboriginal artistic communities
(click on the district or the community you're interested in)

Carte des communautés aborigcnes

The region of wall paintings

In the northern part of Queensland (north-east of Australia) is Cape York, and, at its head, Torres Strait Islands, in the vicinity of New-Guinea, which the Aboriginals had been in contact with long before the first European explorers arrived. Although the Torres Strait Islands have had very tight relations with Papua New-Guinea, Cape York itself maintains closer links with continental Australian culture and the communities living there share the same beliefs as those in Arnhem Land for example.

Wall carvings and paintings, dating back from over15,000 years, made this region famous (near Laura, in the heart of Queensland), as soon as English explorer Matthew Flinders reconnoitered the region in 1803. Since then, and throughout the 19th century, many exploration missions have led to the discovery of ever more numerous and fascinating figures of Great Ancestors, drawn in ochre, which inspire today's artists (such as Zane Saunders and Dennis Nona).

A very varied art

But what characterizes Cape York art is its extreme diversity, whether it be the works produced (painted objects made of plaited fibers, pots, didgeridoos, carved ritual weapons – at Hopevale –, sculptures – in particular at Aurukun, since the 1950's – bark and canvas painting) or the styles, either figurative, as among the sculptors from Aurukun, who often sculpt their totemic animals (bats, mice, quails), and the landscape painters (Joe Rootsey), or abstract and inspired by ritual and tribal motifs, several millenniums old, dating back to the Dreamtime, when they were invented by the Aboriginals for the transmission of initiatory secrets.

Thanks to the Queensland Aboriginal Creations Shop, originally founded in 1959 to encourage the Aboriginals to produce their own craftsmanship, real artistic communities could develop and artists as prestigious as Gordon Benett, Judy Watson or Avril Quail come from there.

Finally, the foundation of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in Sydney in 1987, the Brisbane bicentennial exhibitions in 1988 and "Balance 1990" contributed to the definitive reputation of this very lively art, as much attached to the Aboriginal past as open to occidental techniques, many Cape York artists having studied in art schools.


Following the "founders" of Cape York art – sculptors Charlie Flannigan (end of 19th century) and Kalboori Youngi in the 1930's, the first famous women in the region and painters Joe Alamanhthin Rootsey (1918-1963) and Dick Roughsey (1920-1985) – many artists from Cape York became famous: G. Benette, Judy Watson and Avril Quail mentioned above, but also Gloria Fletcher Thancoupie (born 1937), a great ceramics artist. Eventually, the setting up of the Campfire Group in 1990 also contributed to the increased energy of the communities' artists, eager to pass on the memory of millennial traditions.


See other works from Torres Strait Islands

The northern part of Queensland (north-east of Australia) consists in Cape York, at the end of which are situated the Torres Strait Islands, in the vicinity of New Guinea, a country with which the Aboriginals had had contacts long before the European explorers. Therefore, although most of Cape York clans have always kept strong links with Australia and its traditions, the inhabitants of these islands have rather turned towards Papua New Guinea and have developed an original culture, known under the generic name of Ailan Kastom. It is a set of rites comprehending mainly dances in honor of the Great Ancestors of the Dreamtime – such as Kuiam in the western islands, the four brothers (Malu, Sigai, Siu and Kolka) in the center islands and Malu-Bomai in the eastern islands – who, coming out of primeval chaos, shaped the land in their images, created the several clans and tribes and taught them their laws and customs. When they disappeared, they left them with the memory of their feats in dreams that the islanders were to celebrate.

These ceremonies are still the major source of inspiration for Cape York artists, like Alick TIPOTI, Dennis NONA or Ken THAIDAY, evoking the ritual dances in his linoprints. In these rites, the Aboriginals used to make ceremonial shields, decorated with drawings representing themselves rites, engraved clubs and arrows (which were collected as early as the 1870's in an ethnological perspective) and eventually masks. Woodcarving – the region is very rich in tropical forests – has been carried on from generation to generation and the Torres Strait masks, which fascinated the first European surrealists in the 1920's, today are celebrated. In 1984 an art school specialized in teaching the making of these masks, and gave this activity an official artistic and economic significance. Among the teachers, there was also a famous Aboriginal ceramist, Thancoupie, which shows the artistic diversity of this region.

Actually, three categories of artists can be distinguished: those who follow the community tradition of the Dreamtime, like James Eseli, Richard Harry or Ken Thaiday, who are mostly inspired by the ritual dances of their clans; those who, while following this tradition, live in towns and have often had an artistic education, for example in the Torres Strait Visual Arts Department in Cairns. They carve wood, invent new forms of expression and are also interested in diverse printing techniques (on paper or fabric, like Barkus on Thursday Island). Finally, there are urban artists (like Ellen José, Destiny Deacon or Clinton Nain) who resort to modern media: photographic installations, video. Although their population is not numerous, the Torres Strait Islands still offer the example of an artistic community both very original and very active and thus achieve a perfect synthesis between the respect of millennial traditions and a wide interest in today's world.


To the names mentioned above, one should add those of young artists like Julie Weekes, whose very colorful and dynamic works are typical of the new generation.

  Some references:
Musée du Quai Branly, Musée des Confluences à Lyon, Musée d'Art Contemporain les Abattoirs à Toulouse, Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Asie de Vichy, Musée de la Musique, Museum d'histoire naturelle de Lille, Musée de Rochefort, Fondation Electricité de France, Fondation Colas, Banque Dexia ...

We are members of the Chambre Nationale des Experts Spécialisés en Objets d'Art et de Collection (C.N.E.S.)*
We are members of the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d'Art
*National French Chamber of experts specialized in artworks
Comité des Galeries d'Art
Terre d'Arnhem yirrkala Terre d'Arnhem Orientale Terre d'Arnhem Centrale Terre d'Arnhem Occidentale Bathurst et Melville Detroit de Torres Balgo Warmun Désert Central Papunya Kimberley Cap York Désert Occidental Maningrida Elcho