23 May, 2018

Walkabout: Symbolism

This is European Celtic symbolism.

This is Asian Shamanic symbolism

This is North American First Nations symbolism.

This is Australian Aboriginal symbolism.

Yes, each of these examples are indocative of the continents they are from, but they are each on a narrow subset of the rich diversity from the continents indicated. I've tried to narrow down similar types of imagery from pre-modern eras, and while the first three sets are derived from quick Google searches, they're typical of the kinds of imageey sets I've seen numerous times over the years. The last set of images is on a piece of paper I recieved from Indigenous artists in Moree last year, again similar to many of the image sets I've seen on websites and in books about Australian Aboriginal artwork. I know a lot of the "Australian" symbols aren't native to the Gamilaroi people (who live in and around Moree in northern NSW), they're just the kind of symbolism that is expected of Australian Aboriginal people. They're a part of the shorthand in modern Australian Aboriginal art, they have meanings much like heiroglyphs have meanings, or Chinese ideograms. I guess there are a few more similarities between these Australian symbols and Chinese ideograms, especially when you consider that previous writing systems were generally eliminated across the region, replaced by a standardised writing under Imperial decree or Communist mandate. Yet fragments of the old symbols remain, hidden and now considered obscure, arcane or even sacred. In both cases, the symbols are incorporated into art, carvings, sculpture, hidden in plain sight.

So even though I know that playing with these symbols is using blatant stereotyping, and some of the Indigenous elders I know would be upset as being characterised through symbolism that isn't from their particular ancestral people, they've become a general collection of universal symbolism across the country. Many of those elders who would be upset at being stereotyped would be even more upset if they knew people around the world were using the specific symbolism of their people without their express permission. It's one of those "lesser of two evils" things.
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