ATS2019 - Beyond 'Primitive' Art: Understanding meaning and symbolism in Indigenous art - 2018

6 points, SCA Band 1, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.



Organisational Unit

Monash Indigenous Studies Centre

Chief examiner(s)

Dr Liam Brady


Dr Liam Brady

Unit guides



  • First semester 2018 (Evening)


Twelve credit points of first-year Arts units.


ATS3019, ATS2366, ATS3366


Indigenous 'art' is a highly visible and recognizable symbol of peoples' engagement with their cultural identity, history and traditions. In this unit, students examine early and recent forms of Indigenous visual traditions (e.g. rock-art, bark paintings, sculpture) to learn about their role and significance in Indigenous societies. Topics to be discussed include art's relationship to landscapes and seascapes, issues of interpretation, and how art reflects interaction with the 'other'. The unit combines anthropological, archaeological, and Indigenous approaches to understanding the production, meaning and symbolism associated with various images and objects created through time.


The aim of this unit is to explore the ways early and recent Indigenous art relates to peoples' cultural identity, history and traditions. The unit also seeks to learn how art communicates or encodes information about various aspects of Indigenous cultures. Subject matter to be discussed will be drawn primarily from Australia and supplemented with comparative material from other regions including Aotearoa (New Zealand), North America, and southern Africa. On successful completion of the unit students will be able to:

  1. develop an appreciation and understanding of the cultural heritage value of Indigenous art in a global sense;
  2. demonstrate sound knowledge of the major forms of Indigenous art, their antiquity and their social function;
  3. demonstrate an awareness for how different forms of art act(ed) to construct and/or reinforce Indigenous identity;
  4. compare, contrast, and critically analyse key interpretive frameworks and techniques through which Indigenous art is (and has been) perceived;
  5. discuss and comprehend the changes to Indigenous artistic traditions that occurred through contact with the 'other' (e.g. Europeans, Macassans);
  6. demonstrate an understanding of the historical development and social context of major Indigenous artistic traditions.


Within semester assessment: 100%

Workload requirements

Minimum total expected workload to achieve the learning outcomes for this unit is 144 hours per semester typically comprising a mixture of scheduled learning activities and independent study. A unit requires on average three/four hours of scheduled activities per week. Scheduled activities may include a combination of teacher directed learning, peer directed learning and online engagement.

See also Unit timetable information

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study