Indigenous Meditative Art

Introduction to Indigenous Tribal Meditative Art

Indigenous tribes worldwide don’t have a concept of “art” or an “artist”; there are no theaters, no museums, nor an audience or spectators. Similarly, there is no concept of “sport,” or athletes, but there are games, work and play. This approach allows both art and exercise of body movement to be spontaneous, fun and full of spice.

As a part of tribal life, Art isn’t something that is to be practiced only by certain individuals; rather, it belongs to all and is an integral part of everyone’s life. While each person may have different talents and interests, everyone is – by nature – creative, and can take part in a creative experience both as the “artist” in the “performance” as well as the viewer.

Meditative Art as a Part of Life

Looking at tribal culture worldwide, we can see that the basic human wish and will to create is inherent and essential. We can also see this very nature in children; in their spontaneous bursts into song and dance, their readiness to dress up and act, or their excitement to start to paint. This shows us our simple and elementary need or urge to express our unique creativity.

Unlike modern art, in tribal art, the creative work is not seen as something that “belongs” to a particular person; rather, it is a reflection of a creative moment in time. Art is embedded into every part of each person and each aspect of life. Art is used for healing, for celebrations and mourning, as a form of entertainment, and an object for worship.

“When an Indian potter collects clay, she asks the consent of the river-bed and sings it praises for having made something as beautiful as clay. When she fires her pottery, to this day, she still offers songs to the fire so it will not discolor or burn her wares. And finally, when she paints her pottery, she imprints it with the images that give it life and power – because for an Indian, pottery is something significant, not just autility but a ‘being’ for which there is as much of a natural order as there is for persons or foxes or trees.” Jamake Highwater, Native American writer (quoted from Millennium, David Maybury-Lewis)


Essentially, life is woven together with art and spirituality into a single plat of culture. The artificial boundaries placed upon art only create distance and empty out the deep and magical meaning behind a creative act.

According to the traditional way of thought, creativity is seen as an expression of life itself or as way of living; of being, rather than something that is appreciated from a distance; separated from life, and stored in a museum. An artwork is not only something to be looked at; it is a way to connect. To create is to be in the moment, in the artwork and in contact with the creative source.

Art is not a way to say something, but to be, to connect through, and be a part of: community, culture, religion, tradition, gender, rituals or simply, a part of a creative process in action(Image of the Hopi people of Mali. Photography: Kate Englund)

From the book: Meditative Art – Theory & Practice


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