Friday February 17, 2017

'It's exploiting culture': Australia mulls bill to ban sale of fake Indigenous art

These posters from the Arts Law Centre of Australia call attention to foreign-made products being sold as Indigenous art in Australia.

These posters from the Arts Law Centre of Australia call attention to foreign-made products being sold as Indigenous art in Australia. (Arts Law Centre of Australia)

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Indigenous artists and copyright advocates in Australia are rallying behind a proposed private member's bill to crack down on the sale of fake Aboriginal trinkets and souvenirs in the country.

"Ninety per cent of the stuff being sold is rubbish, which our First Australians get nothing out of," Bob Katter, the MP who plans to introduce the bill, told Parliament. "If there be one thing that First Australians [should] be allowed to keep and own, it is their own culture."

Katter has the backing of a number of advocacy groups, including Indigenous Art Code, which "supports the rights of Indigenous Artists to negotiate fair terms for their work and gives buyers greater certainty about an artwork's origin."

"It's exploiting culture, because it's not real and it's a misrepresentation," Indigenous Art Code CEO Gabrielle Sullivan told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

The bill will be aimed at trinkets marketed towards tourists — colourful painted boomerangs, instruments and ceramics often sold as cheap souvenirs.

The buyer might think they're taking home an authentic piece of Indigenous Australian art, Sullivan said, but much of it actually comes from factories in foreign countries.

'It's very hard to compete with these cheap knock-offs.' - Gabrielle Sullivan, Indigenous Art Code

Consumers aren't the only ones getting ripped off, she said. 

"It's also taking away the opportunity for the Aboriginal artists who are creating the authentic work. It's taking away the space in the market for their work because it's very hard to compete with these cheap knock-offs."

Artists Are Cheated

Advocates say artists and consumers are cheated by inauthentic Indigenous art. (Arts Law Centre of Australia)

Under the existing consumer protection laws in Australia, hawking these faux-Aborginal wares is only illegal if the seller is openly advertising them as authentic.

Art Code and other advocates want to go a step further and make it illegal to import and sell fake "Aboriginal-style" crafts. Katter's bill would put the onus on sellers to have such objects licensed by a First Australian organization. 

"The only people that would lose out are people that are misappropriating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture," Sullivan said.

"They can either toe the line and start selling authentic work, of which there is an abundance in Australia, or perhaps they can start selling something else that isn't going to violate the culture of Australia's First Nations people."

With files from The Associated Press