Three ways to support Indigenous Artists

It’s always wonderful to see non-Indigenous Australians appreciating the art of our First Peoples, but sadly, not all work touted as First Nations art is the real deal. 

Here are three ways you can support Indigenous Artists ethically – and pay tribute to the world’s longest surviving culture.

Who wouldn’t want to share in a rich, vibrant culture that’s 100,000 years in the making? Whether a visitor to this country or a permanent resident, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and art are things to be celebrated. 

But unfortunately, buying a piece of art – or a souvenir – is ethically not as straightforward as you may think … or hope.

The majority is fake 

Here’s a statistic that may shock you: it’s been estimated that up to 80% of so-called Aboriginal art and souvenirs are fake. 

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” as the adage goes, and yes, in part this is true. But this is no benign compliment. It’s not like buying a fake handbag or a fake watch – fake Aboriginal art is incredibly destructive, to peoples, cultures, and livelihood. 

“It’s a problem because it’s usually done by people who aren’t Indigenous,” explains Aunty Munya, “So they have no right to do that.”

“They’re presenting Indigenous culture that they know absolutely nothing about – so they could be mixing up symbols, for instance, certain iconography that belongs to particular locations. For example, the Wandjina images come from the Kimberley region, as opposed to the Lightning Brothers that come from the Northern Territory.” 

So what can we do?

Good news. If you would like to support an Indigenous artist ethically, you can. Here’s how:

1. Develop a relationship with the artist first

If you’re buying from an individual artist, it’s great to get to know him or her first. This way, you can both proceed with confidence: your artist will know that you’re not going to take the design and start mass-producing it on tea towels, and you’ll have so much more insight into the work and what it means on a personal and cultural level. 

If you’re buying from a gallery or other organization, try to find out as much as you can about the organization first. “If it’s a business, it should have certification as an Aboriginal-owned business,” explains Carla. 

If it represents multiple Indigenous artists, that’s a good sign. 

2. Keep the stories going

Not just beautiful to look at, every piece of First Nations art is a story. Learn the story, and share it as often as you can!

3. Be on the lookout for fake art

Be an ally – if you notice fake art, act on it. 

 “We really need you to keep an eye out for us,” explains Aunty Munya, “where non-Aboriginal art is being passed off as Aboriginal.” A good place to start is by notifying the ACCC

But how do you know if it’s fake? 

“[Consumer advocacy group] CHOICE has some great information,” says Carla, who agrees with the group’s tips as suggested by Indigenous Art Code CEO Gabrielle Sullivan:

  • The art or souvenir should be labelled with – or accompanied by – information that says who the artist is and where they’re from. 
  • The sales staff should be able to tell you how the artist is paid, as well as the name/s of the individual artists (if not already provided).
  • You should not have any trouble finding out any information about the supply chain – where the item was created and by whom.

Helping keep culture safe

With so many fake pieces on the market, it might be easy to be discouraged from even considering the addition of some First Nations art to your collection. 

But there’s no need to be. Just as fake art can be destructive, supporting Indigenous artists through the right channels can be hugely empowering. 

Follow these tips and you’ll be actively helping safeguard culture for future generations. You’ll also have something beautiful to appreciate and enjoy for the years to come – win-win!

If you’d like more information on any of these steps – or some more help identifying an ethical purchase – please don’t hesitate to be in touch. 

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