Utopia Dreaming

Dreamtime is a theory of the Universe…The Dreamtime is a description and an explanation of how it is that things are as they are, and a user’s manual for operating and maintaining the Universe in accordance with that description. It is the Law…This term which encompasses the entire conceptual system based on the (Altyerre) Dreamings and the churinga (sacred objects) is one of the world’s great conceptual systems, accommodating virtually the entire intellectual universe of its believers.
Woodrow Denham, Alyawarra Ethnographic Archive

Dreaming (Altyerre) refers to a set of beliefs or spirituality. It is the law of religion and social behaviors, the land and the spiritual forces sustaining life. The Dreamings are passed down to the younger men and women through sacred ceremonies. Dreaming stories explain the concept of matter and life.

Sunshine Rock on MacDonald Downs, © Eastern Desert Art

Sunshine Rock on MacDonald Downs, © Eastern Desert Art

According to traditional belief, the stories were created a very long time ago during the Dreamtime period or creation time by the spiritual Creation Ancestors. It was during this time that day, sky, stars, fire, air, water, land and all life was created. The Spiritual Ancestors took all manner of forms including human, plant and animal. During the Dreamtime period the Ancestors travelled all over the land performing ceremonies and singing. In the desert region of central Australia the Ancestors left their spirit in objects (churinga) of wood and stone and sites which are sacred to the initiated men. This system of beliefs is known as the Altyerre, to the Anmatyarr and to the Alyawarr people of the Central Desert region.

Dreaming sites are places where Dreamtime beings ‘jumped up’ or created waterholes and other features, or ‘went down’ into the ground again. These places are very specific spots on the ground that can be plotted clearly on topographic maps. Each Dreaming site contains a collection of objects left there by the Dreamtime being who stopped there. Woodrow Denham, Alyawarra Ethnographic Archive

Dreamtime stories are passed down through the generations through ceremonies during which the women’s bodies are painted in linear strokes of ochres and white and the stories are sung to the initiates. This is called making Awelye and contemporary women painters like Susan Pitjara Hunter, Joy Kngwarreye Jones, Mary Kemarre Morton, Lucky Kngwarreye Morton explore these sacred body marks through abstraction in their painting.

On the other hand the Anmatyarre and Alyawarre men such as Sandy Pitjara Hunter, Freddy Kngwarreye Jones and Cowboy Louie Pwerle represent their dreaming in strong iconographic and geometric ceremonial paintings which are like identical transfers of the ground markings used during the men’s ceremonies. These large ceremonial ground paintings made from earth-pigments are sacred and have provided the model for acrylic paintings on canvas. The artists have transferred their sacred dreaming designs from the ephemeral to the tangible.

Continue reading about dreamtime, dreaming and its relationship to the art history of Utopia.