Albury conference learns value of Indigenous Art Code

A CAMPAIGNER against the sale of inauthentic Indigenous-style art products says regional councils have a role in stopping the practice.

Gabrielle Sullivan, of Indigenous Art Code, visited the Border on Thursday and encouraged contributions to a federal government inquiry into the fake art.

Speaking during the NSW Local Government Aboriginal Network Conference at Albury Entertainment Centre, Ms Sullivan said her audience seemed to take the problem seriously.

“I think there’s an appetite in local government to be involved, making sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait artists get a fair go and that councils’ procurement policies and processes are assisting to do that,” she said.

“There’s people on the ground that are passionate and councillors so I do think it’s a place where change can be made.”

Albury deputy mayor Amanda Cohn praised Ms Sullivan’s presentation and felt proud Albury council’s working with Aboriginal artists protocol covered many of the same issues.

“Like making sure that artists are fairly remunerated, that we communicate with them and they’re aware of the retail price of their work,” Cr Cohn said.

“We’re running a major regional art facility in MAMA, so it’s really important that we’re doing the right thing.”

The House of Representatives standing committee on Indigenous affairs announced its inquiry last month, with submissions due by November 3. Defining authentic art, present laws and licensing arrangements, the prevalence of fake art and options to restrict it will be examined by the committee. Indigenous Art Code oversees a voluntary system to preserve and promote ethical trading in art.

A submission from the group said a mystery shopping exercise in capital cities revealed the widespread sale of works that looked Indigenous but had no connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“These are commercially produced goods, generally aimed at the tourist market; often made from non-traditional materials and featuring inauthentic and culturally inappropriate designs,” the submission said. “They range from bamboo didgeridoos to decorative plates and key rings.”

The submission said such products misappropriated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and denied artists economic and other opportunities.

Consumers were deceived and Australian businesses that took an ethical and culturally empathetic approach were disadvantaged.

While copyright laws protected an individual artist’s work, items produced in an “Aboriginal style” were not covered by this legislation.

Indigenous Art Code said a reproduction, adaptation or style of work could only be considered authentic if it had the authority or permission of the relevant Indigenous community.

“Producing an art product or merchandise without that consent breaches the community’s custodial rights,” the group said.

“We need much stronger laws to properly protect Indigenous cultural and intellectual property in Australia.”