Corporate ‘fake art’ profiting off Aboriginal art

August 11, 2017
It is estimated that 80% of tourist shops sell “Indigenous” products, originating in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and China.

Walking into any souvenir shop in Australia, tourists see the walls lined with Aboriginal designs and artwork. What is less obvious is the fact that most of these items are mass produced in parts of Asia.

Banduk Marika, a Youngu artist, said: “We’re not making those. Indigenous people, even Australians, we’re not making those. Who is making this?”

Aboriginal communities say the answer is corporations.

Artist Brendon Porteous explained that his artwork was stolen a few years ago and has been completely capitalised on by others since that day, in a report by ABC News.

“I made the mistake of selling a couple of paintings to someone and they keep reproducing it,” Porteous explained.

“They even sign my name.”

When he confronted the fraudulent artists about the fake art, they responded that they needed more art and he wasn’t available at the time, so they got another guy to do it.

However, Porteous’s story of the exploitation of Indigenous culture is only one among hundreds.

“It’s a huge issue for artists who are connected to images connected to ceremonies that are connected to songlines, places and generations that go back hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of decades,” said June Oscar, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

“It’s wrong to paint someone else’s story – it’s misappropriation and abuse of copyright and intellectual property [theft],” Dr Denise Salvestro, chair of ArtBeckNT, told The Guardian.

She explained that education in Aboriginal communities is scarce and consequently the only income available to Indigenous communities is through their art. “For a lot of people, especially the people living in the homelands, they’re remote and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for employment.

“If people aren’t buying their artwork they aren’t making any income.”

A human rights campaign launched last year, “Fake Art Harms Culture”, estimated that 80% of tourist shops sell “Indigenous” products, originating in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and China.

“If someone copied someone’s original artwork and put it on a shirt it’s an infringement,” said Gabrielle Sullivan, Indigenous Art Code CEO.

“But if somebody gets a factory in China to make a pastiche of Aboriginal design, but not copying anyone directly, that’s not protected.”

She added that although the process is not illegal, as Aboriginal designs are not protected under Australian law, it is unethical and violates the community’s primary means of income.

Last month, the group sent a letter to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, alerting him to the harmful effects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and income.

It reminded him that the federal MP Bob Katter’s Private Members Bill that regulates the sale of Indigenous art was set to lapse in September and demanded to know what actions he planned to take.

Turnbull has not responded.

“It really takes the core out from inside of you, it just really dampens the spirit because you’re telling your true story, and here are people taking patterns and colour just for the sake of creating a fake image so they can make money,” said artist Laurie Nona, part of the movement to expose the intellectual crime.

“Art is our story, it's our identity, it's who we are, it's a living culture,” the artist said, adding that the major corporations are “taking something they have no connection to, they have no idea what it means”.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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