Reconciliation in action: How do you know if Aboriginal art is authentic?


Thoughtful Buy: Yorta Artist Yorta Chloe Jones is the creator of an authentic Indigenous art business, Dungala Creations. Photo by Megan Fisher

You see an Aboriginal artwork and fall in love with it.

Or you want to buy a souvenir to take home or send abroad.

So how do you know if you’re buying authentic Aboriginal art – that the purchase is supporting an artists’ fair?

Do you realize that you have a role to play in ensuring that artists maintain agency in their artistic practice and in any business dealings related to their art – that how you buy art can support that?

First Nations peoples have been creating art for tens of thousands of years.

It is part of cultural expression, identity, storytelling and transmission of traditions and information.

This practice continues today.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts are increasingly recognized, not only in Australia, but internationally.

They are now an important part of the art world.

The Productivity Commission’s recently released draft report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Visual Arts and Crafts noted that three out of four Australians consider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art to be an important part of the australian culture.

First Nations arts and crafts have also become an important source of “economic empowerment” for artists and communities, with annual sales of $250 million generated each year.

The draft report found that around 19,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people earn income from the sale of visual arts and many more are employed in the arts sector or related industries such as tourism. .

As the draft report notes: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts markets have grown and thrived on the talents and skills of artists, the cultural value artists and communities derive from the practice of art and the works themselves, to the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and the growing consumer awareness and demand for authentic arts and crafts Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

It is the focus on “authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts” that is important.

The Productivity Commission, in its draft report, defined an “authentic” work of art as “an original work written (or co-written) by an Aboriginal person and a Torres Strait Islander or produced within the of a licensing agreement with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander(s) artist.”

The Commission also defined “inauthentic” works of art as: “Any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual art and craft that does not meet the criteria (above) – including those that infringe the right to author of the work of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artist or … aboriginal-style arts and crafts made by non-Aboriginal people without a license agreement.

With the increase in demand for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, there has also been an increase in the production of inauthentic – or fake – visual art.

Did you know that two out of three Aboriginal-style souvenirs are made by people unrelated to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people?

Did you know that in 2019-2020, this amounted to $41-54 million spent on non-authentic Indigenous-style souvenir products?

The negative impact this has on First Nations artists and communities has led the Productivity Commission to recommend mandatory labeling of non-authentic products to educate consumers and help them distinguish between genuine and non-authentic products. authentic.

Commenting on the impact of counterfeit art, the draft report stated: “Such inauthentic products erode the market share of authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander products, weaken consumer confidence and distort cultures. Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders”.

A 2019 Federal Court ruling fining an Australian company $2.3 million under consumer law for misleading consumers by promoting their products as genuine works of art Aboriginal art when they were mass-produced in Indonesia was a historic decision.

At the time, National Aboriginal Art Fair director Peter Cooley said the ruling was a “good start” in the campaign to protect the authentic Aboriginal art industry from counterfeit products.

According to the organization, Indigenous Art Code: “In many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, art sales are the primary source of income. Ensuring that you always buy ethically and authentically is not only about protecting the buyer’s investment, it is also about respecting the world’s oldest living culture, ensuring that artists and those who surround are paid fairly and ensure a sustainable future for Australia’s Indigenous art industry.

So what questions should you ask an art center, gallery, art dealer, auction house or art fair before buying?

Here are the key Aboriginal Art Code questions that every buyer should consider:

1. Who is the artist?

2. Where does the artist come from?

3. How did you acquire the work or product for your gallery or shop?

4. How was the artist paid for his work?

5. If this is a reproduction of an artist’s work, how are royalties or license fees paid to the artist?

6. How long has your gallery existed? If he suddenly appeared out of nowhere, where was he before? And where will he be next week?

7. Has your gallery adhered to the Aboriginal Art Code? If so, you know he has agreed to follow the Australian Aboriginal Art Business Code of Conduct.

To ask questions.

Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art dealers have high ethical standards and a genuine sense of responsibility to Aboriginal artists and their communities.

Many are signatories to the Indigenous Art Code and display this logo on their premises and on marketing materials.

Buyers are encouraged to look for it when and where they purchase Aboriginal art.

Unfortunately, some people selling Aboriginal art – and fake Aboriginal art – do not respect Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture, or the well-being of artists and their communities. That’s why the Aboriginal Art Code exists.

Buying authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is, as Clare G. Coleman, writer and Noongar arts advocate, points out: “…a great investment, teaches you a lot about Aboriginal culture and culture. ‘purchasing can provide artists and their communities with economic independence’.

So if you’re looking for souvenirs in markets, gift shops, or other outlets that sell native-style wares, ask yourself if the artwork is “authentic.” Does your purchase represent a fair bet for artists?

Again, ask questions.

Discover galleries and art centers on the Internet, ask questions by e-mail or in person.

Check if they are members of the Indigenous Art Code – this is a strong indicator of intent to support artists in an ethical manner.

To learn more about the Indigenous Art Code, visit

Visit the Kaiela Arts Aboriginal Gallery in Shepparton, located in the new building of the Shepparton Art Museum – a local member of the Aboriginal Art Code.


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