26 September 2023

Indigenous art ‘not always what it seems’

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The Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Gary Newcombe has warned purchasers of Aboriginal art that the attractive patterns, earthy tones and dreamtime narratives may not be the real deal.

“While much of the allure of buying your own piece of Aboriginal artwork is knowing it has been created by an Aboriginal person, a new report demonstrates why there’s a good chance this may not be the case,” Mr Newcombe said.

“The Productivity Commission has found that as many as two-in-three Indigenous-style souvenirs are inauthentic, with no connection to Aboriginal people.”

He said that not only could inauthentic products mislead consumers, they also deprived Aboriginal artists of income and disrespected cultures.

“The Productivity Commission is inviting feedback on a number of proposals, including for the mandatory labelling of inauthentic products to raise awareness and help consumers focus on authentic arts and crafts,” Mr Newcombe said.

“In the meantime, consumers looking to buy Aboriginal art and craft should know what to look for and ask the right questions to make sure they are getting the real deal.”

He said terms such as ‘Aboriginal style’ or ‘Indigenous style’ might not mean the item had been produced by an Aboriginal person.

“Even a photo of an Aboriginal person holding a painting, or sitting beside a work in progress, does not guarantee that the artwork has been created by them,” Mr Newcombe said.

“Although not a guarantee, certificates of authenticity do provide a written record of what you have been told you are buying, which may later help to establish whether you have been misled.”

He said the seller should be asked for the artist’s name, their language group or homelands, the title of the work, as well as the details of any story it tells.

“Also consider whether the price seems fair and reasonable for the size and quality of the artwork and investigate whether the seller has a good reputation in the industry,” Mr Newcombe said.

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