Art: Shadows on the Rock

On the walls of London's Australia House last week, painted beings with white, mouthless faces wavered. Some of them appeared to be swimming in seas of little kangaroos, ducks, lilies and yams. They were copies of rare aboriginal cave paintings found in the Kimberley district of Northwestern Australia—and they looked a good deal fresher than the child's play of much modern art.

The cave paintings are among the oldest art known. The reason they looked so fresh was that every year, for centuries, Australian aborigines had retouched them with red and yellow ocher and pipeclay white. The aborigines believe that wond'ina—the strong,...

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