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Body Paint Exhibition

Perhaps the oldest living art form in the world, the designs in these paintings have prehistoric origins. They belong to the world's oldest living culture.

We are honoured to present this collection of strong, soulful and expressive works featuring women's ceremonial body paint designs.

In the Eastern Desert, Awelye is the word used to describe women's ceremony, and sometimes just the body paint designs, where painting is a ritual of song and dance itself. The women sing during the body paint process to call the spirit ancestors to the approaching ceremony. 

These ceremonies come from the land and the knowledge of these ceremonies is passed on by the senior land-owning women to the younger generations.

When women paint each other for ceremony, they may do so according to skin names and tribal hierarchy.

To apply body paint, women firstly smear their upper bodies with animal fat, or nowadays a generic vegetable oil. The oil helps keep the paint in place and for easier removal.

Using their fingers or a paint brush to trace the designs, the women paint specific colours and designs onto their chests and breasts, and in some ceremonies the upper arm and thigh.

Traditionally powders ground from ochres, charcoal and ash may be applied, with fingers or a brush. Now synthetic paints are often used.


A tyepale is a traditional paint brush made from natural bush materials. Before ready made paint brushes existed, tyepales were used.

There is a local native flowering plant called Apwen (Senna artemisioides) where the thin narrow leaves are peeled off to reveal a nice long, skinny stem that was used to make a paint brush handle.

A soft padding is then secured to one end turning the stick into a brush.