80% of Indigenous souvenirs sold in this country are fake! Adding insult to this injury, much of this product is being manufactured overseas as part of a very damaging unregulated industry going on in Australia around the Fake Art trade of Indigenous art.
Through the hard work of advocates like Nancy Bamaga, managing director of Black Drum Productions, there is now a Parliamentary inquiry through its Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs into the growing presence of inauthentic (Fake) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘style’ art and craft products and merchandise that is sold across Australia.
As part of the Fake Art Harms campaign, I recently travelled to Western Australia to interview cultural leaders about the impact of fake art, the importance of the legislation to end this cultural theft and what we can do as a community to stop it’s proliferation.
Creative powerhouse Phil Walleystack, musician, producer and fashion designer described the impacts fake art has on the community as “Taking money out of peoples pockets… people are mass producing fake aboriginal art and selling it for chips down in the markets and at a stalls, this needs to stop we want to help our own mob to build their own businesses so they can look after themselves, their community, their families, I think that’s where the big change will come.”
Full interview with Phil Walleystack
Well known TV icon Ernie Dingo agreed saying “When you see the art work that comes out of the desert, out of the top end and now all around the country there is a history, there is totemic symbol, there is a strong connection to that art work but when you go down to those areas where a lot of tourist accumulate and see T-Shirts, funny looking boomerangs and foot long didgeridoos and you think how many Blackies are going to get a quid out of that?”
Full interview Ernie Dingo
But beyond the enormous economic impact this harmful trade; this stealing of culture to be commodified for someone else’s gain, has a big effect on Aboriginal culture itself. Miranda Farmer, wife of artist Peter Framer said, “Aboriginal culture is an oral history not a written history so the art is an important tool, it’s a communicator of our stories, language, history and culture is embedded in the art work. The mass production of stuff is like putting something on an assembly line, this is a 50 000 – 60 000 year old culture that just can’t be put on an assembly line!”
Full interview Dr Richard Walley
Highly regarded academic and artist Dr Richard Walley reiterated how the production of fake art and misappropriation of culture was a harmful disregard to the innate cultural knowledge of the Indigenous community to making art. Walley explained, “What people call art today is our cultural expression and it takes different forms, story telling, dance, song and the visual arts, that background then gives us the grounding to know the principles involved in presenting producing and also being involved with art works. One of those (principals) is knowing who you are and where you are from, what your stories are and then you have the ability to do your own creative works from that based upon those strong foundations that have been put down from your family and your background.”
Peter Farmer, one of Western Australia’s most well known artists and International fashion designer, having just done a collaboration with Jimmy Choo, said “You need to converse with the elders of the community that’s where we get most of our culture and stories from if I’m not talking to them or any member of the community its wrong and your not on track when you produce a piece of art because its not original.”
Full Interview Peter Farmer
Everyone I spoke to agreed the legislation is crucial. The Mayor of Fremantle, Brad Pettitt, tried to make Fremantle a souvenir free zone but found it was a very difficult local law to process, pass and enforce. He said, “We were really pleased that these was a national response to it and one we are keen to be a part of and support.”
On the detail of this legislation, Dr Walley elaborated that if a law is to be made it needs to be complex and well considered as a piece of art has multiple values. The value of the art to the community, which preserves the stories, and the connection to that community. The commercial value where the art is actually an investment, then the value of the art to the purchaser are you purchasing it for the aesthetics and stories or is it an investment? “Who are you legislating for the community or the investor and sometimes you can’t do both.” He went onto say that you don’t want to kill the legitimate industry.
On this point it was informative to talk to Ian Plunkett, Director of Japinka Gallery, who has had a year thirty year career involved in Indigenous art and was on the board of the Indigenous Arts Code. He said, “We must remember its not just that the Indigenous people need to make the pieces, it’s that they have to approve it and get a royalty whenever their designs are used too. So sometimes their designs are being used without an acknowledgement let alone paid a royalty and that again is theft. What we are saying many artists actually make a good living by licensing their designs to be used by proper manufactures overseas and Australia you get them on ties, silk scarves, beautiful products but each time the artist are paid a royalty.” He went on to qualify that the legislation needed to protect is burgeoning industry.
Full interview with Ian Plunkett
But what we can do as a community to stop Fake Art ? Ernie Dingo responded, “In a positive proactive indigenous artist saviour sense you need to go to those vendors and say who is your supplier? Where are you getting your art from and if they can’t tell you, you need to investigate as to where the work is from and where the finances are going, if we tried to rip off Gucci or Ralph Lauren copyright stops us, but if they are taking our art and using it for their sales, what do we get out of it, nothing, we need to get rid of this, if they can get rid of guns they can get rid of it (fake art)!”
Have you say and make a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry here. Submissions close the 3rd of November.