Uluru Art


Art of Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Park

Anangu art has traditionally taken the form of rock paintings, sand drawings and body painting. Anangu paintings are created for two complimentary reasons:

  • religious and ceremonial expression; and
  • teaching and storytelling.

Traditional methods and designs are passed on from one generation to the next. Today Anangu still create sand drawings and body paintings for these purposes but do not use rock paintings any more.

Now they also have available a wide range of new materials to use including acrylic paints and canvases and have acquired new skills such as painting on ceramics and punu, wood carving and decorating.

Although the mediums may have changed Anangu artists use the same symbols and meanings that have been used over many generations. This enables Anangu to continue passing on knowledge through storytelling as well as providing the community with a source of income. Paintings and crafts in this style are on display in the visitor centres and for sale at Uluru - Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre.

Where to See Rock Paintings
Several rock shelters along the Mala and Mutitjulu Walks provide visitors with the opportunity to observe evidence of this ancient tradition. The paintings are of considerable historical significance to Anangu who continue to ensure their preservation and protection.

Protection of Rock Paintings
Rock paintings around Uluru are easily damaged because they are not held together with any binding agents. Natural elements like water, salt, and lichen growth make them fade or flake off. Dust has an abrasive effect on the paintings and also covers them up. Mud nests built by swallows and wasps can also damage the art. Paintings also deteriorate where careless people touch the artwork or paint or scratch graffiti on the sites.

Anangu and Park Managers have established methods for protecting art. They have erected viewing platforms and interpretive signs at many of the popular sites. These allow people to view the art closely but prevent them touching the paintings, and also reduce the amount of dust stirred up. Silicon drip lines are located where paintings are vulnerable to water flowing over the surface. The drip lines change the surface tension, diverting the path of the water away from the paintings.

The art sites have also been comprehensively documented by specialists, with maps, photographs and cultural information provided by Anangu.

Help us to protect the World Heritage art of Uluru by remaining behind the barriers, and inform any Park Staff immediately if you see any persons damaging or interfering with the art work.

Body Painting
The same symbols and paints used in rock art are also used in body painting. People are painted with ochres to represent the Tjukurpa ancestors and events they are depicting during inma (dance and ceremonies). Some of the public inma can be seen in the video displays at the Cultural Centre.

Traditional Painting Materials
Anangu make paints from natural mineral substances mixed with water and sometimes with animal fat. They most commonly use red, yellow, orange, white, grey and black pigments. Red, yellow and orange pigments are iron stained clays called ochres. Calcite, a chalky mineral, and also ash are used to make white pigments. Calcite occurs naturally in calcrete deposits common in this area. For the black pigment charcoal is used. As these materials are used in religious ceremonies Anangu handle them with great respect

The Symbols and Meanings
The symbols and figures on the shelter walls at Uluru are similar to those found in many sites throughout Central Australia. Anangu still use these symbols in their paintings and carvings. These include geometric symbols such as concentric circles, figures representing animal tracks and the outlines of animals.

Anangu still draw symbols in the sand to teach and tell stories
These symbols can represent different meanings, however these become clear when the artists explain the story they are depicting. The true meanings of the Uluru rock paintings rest with the artists and those they were teaching. Some senior Anangu in the Park know the meaning of the cave symbols because they either painted them themselves or recalled having them explained by the artists.

In some paintings the concentric circles symbol may mean a waterhole, or a camping place. In others, the same symbol may indicate a honey ant nest or a native fig tree. Concentric circles symbols usually represent a significant ancestral site or can be an intricate part of the story being told by the artist.

Painting Today
Anangu first began transferring sand paintings onto canvas during the 1970's. The popularity and demand for western desert paintings has been increasing ever since with the paintings being sold locally, nationally and internationally. Contemporary media and Aboriginal art enterprises now enable broad distribution of paintings and crafts depicting traditional designs.

Park Entry Ticket Design - Tjukurpa of Uluru
Please keep your park entry ticket. The painting, by Malya Teamay, that is on the ticket depicts the important stories of Uluru. Uluru is represented in the centre of the painting by concentric circles. The different shades of colour surrounding Uluru show the different land and vegetation (which is all Tjukurpa), crossed by these ancestral beings on their journeys to Uluru.

The ancestral beings (Tjukuritja) represented in this painting are:

Kuniya, the Python Woman with her eggs (top-right of painting);
Liru, the venomous snake (top-left of painting);
Kurpany, the doglike creature represented by the pawprints (bottom-left); and
Mala the rufous hare wallaby represented by the wallaby tracks (bottom right).
The footprints and spears represent the warriors of the Warmala revenge party who travelled from West of Uluru looking for Kuniya.

This painting also appears on the cover of the Uluru -Kata Tjuta National Park Plan of Management (2000). Anangu ask that you respect the Tjukurpa by keeping your park entry ticket, not discarding it or giving it away.

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