For the first time, the Federal Government has taken steps to protect genuine Indigenous art, announcing it is considering legislation that would crack down on fake souvenirs and artwork.
- Federal Government announces it is considering legislation to protect genuine Indigenous artworks
- There have long been concerns about imitation and fake art being sold, particularly to tourists
- Previous attempts to propose legislation to protect artists has not had government support
Long-running calls for stronger legal protection gained further support after a 2018 parliamentary inquiry found there was widespread evidence Indigenous artists were being “cheated” and cultural items were being reproduced without consent, purely to make money.
The souvenir trade was worst affected, with evidence around 80 per cent of the keepsakes supposedly representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artwork were “inauthentic”.
In a long-awaited federal response to the inquiry’s report, the Minister for First Australians Ken Wyatt said he wanted to “stamp out” the practice.
“It really is staggering, given tourists come here wanting authentic Indigenous artwork and they assume that the artwork they are buying is genuine, when in fact they are buying a fake,” he said.
“We’d never buy a fake Pro Hart, because we’d be outraged.”
Imitation products still on the shelves
He said imitation Indigenous designs were being pumped out in overseas and domestic factories.
“Fake art is being done everywhere,” Mr Wyatt said.
“We’ve even had it done here in Australia by people who are quite happy to sit down in a sweatshop environment and recreate Aboriginal artworks.”
The Minister said he visited souvenir shops to check the provenance of items being sold and continued to see evidence of imitations on the shelves.
Bill could protect ‘cultural expressions’
A key recommendation from the parliamentary inquiry was for the Government to “begin a consultation process to develop stand-alone legislation protecting Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property”.
The report stated a bill could encompass traditional knowledge and cultural expressions.
Today, the Government committed to assessing the “scope and feasibility” of the recommendation, including consultation with Indigenous communities.
Labor is broadly supportive of the move.
Questions about authentic Aboriginal art have also extended to the use of traditional designs in television shows, after the hugely popular Netflix series After Life was criticised for an artwork that featured prominently.
The series from comedian Ricky Gervais was criticised by Australian Aboriginal elders for “stealing” from their culture, and the English artist who had replicated the style of Aboriginal art for the large dot painting issued an apology.
Could traditional dance be protected?
Quandamooka lawyer and chair of the Indigenous Art Code Stephanie Parkin said there had been a long history of advocacy for legal protections.
“There’s potential for stand-alone legislation to not only be in relation to artistic works, but there’s also potential for it to be broader and to give recognition and protection to languages and dances and performances,” she said.
Ms Parkin said consumers also needed to be better informed.
“There also needs to be continued education for consumers, members of the public and artists on why these laws are important and what they will and will not be able to achieve,” she said.
Ms Parkin said the sale of inauthentic products was not only damaging to the Indigenous community, but it also affected the broader public’s understanding of Australian culture and history.
“We hear from artists and communities about how destructive these type of imitation products are to cultural knowledge and stories because … they distort stories and change the way in which Aboriginal art and cultural knowledge is presented to the wider public.”