Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Boomerang, mid– to late 19th century
    Western Kimberley Region, Western Australia
    Wood, paint; L. 21 7/8 in. (55.6 cm)
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1608)

    An iconic symbol of Aboriginal culture, the boomerang is the most familiar of all Aboriginal art forms. Created by many, but not all, Aboriginal peoples, boomerangs served a variety of purposes. The best known type were the returning boomerangs, made in parts of southeastern and western Australia. Used primarily for entertainment, when thrown outward returning boomerangs circle back to land near or be caught by the thrower. Most boomerangs, however, were nonreturning. Employed primarily in hunting and warfare, boomerangs were specialized throwing sticks, designed to strike the target and fall to the ground. In hunting, they usually served to incapacitate the prey, allowing the hunter to catch the animal, which was then killed with spears or other weapons. Primarily projectile weapons, in some areas boomerangs were also general-purpose tools, serving, as needed, as knives, digging sticks, or fire-making implements. Some types were, and continue to be, used as musical instruments, the musician holding a boomerang in each hand and clapping them together to provide a rhythmical accompaniment for song and dance performances.

    This boomerang, with its broad body and sharply pointed tips, shows the classic form of fighting boomerangs from the western Kimberley Region. The delicate herringbone pattern incised into its surface may have been purely decorative. However, geometric motifs in Aboriginal art often allude to ritual art forms or to aspects of the Dreaming, the primordial creation period in which ancestral beings formed the features of the landscape, where their power endures today.

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  • Boomerang, mid- to late 19th century
    Western Kimberley Region, Western Australia
    Wood, paint; L. 21 7/8 in. (55.6 cm)
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1608)


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