The title is an innovation; The Committee states
The words ‘First Nations’, ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ are used interchangeably in this report to refer to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia and their art and cultures.
While the committee understands that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may not feel comfortable with some of these words, we only mean to convey respect through the use of these words.The Committee was to
Inquire into and report on the growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘style’ art and craft products and merchandise for sale across Australia, including:
- the definition of authentic art and craft products and merchandise;
- current laws and licensing arrangements for the production, distribution, selling and reselling of authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and craft products and merchandise;
- an examination of the prevalence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘style’ art and craft products and merchandise in the market;
- options to promote the authentic products for the benefit of artists and consumers; and
The Chair's Forward states
- options to restrict the prevalence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘style’ art and craft products and merchandise in the market.
Our First Nations peoples have been the guardians of their country and culture for thousands of years. It is an ethical and moral demand that we assist this process into the future.
First Nations art and craft is not simply a collection of design elements in some artistic media presentation. They are in fact a representation of cultural songlines. Art is therefore integral to the cultural identity, stories and history of First Nations peoples. It is about a continuous celebration and preservation of that history and cultures, which underpins all of the issues raised.
An extraordinary statistic that emerged from the evidence received is that 80% of the souvenirs sold in Australia purporting to represent First Nations cultures are in fact imitation products. These inauthentic items have no connection to First Nations peoples and are often cheaply made imports.
The committee’s own observations during several visits to gift shops in popular tourist areas of Sydney were consistent with this overwhelming statistic. What also became clear during this inquiry is that most buyers of these souvenirtype products are likely unaware that they are predominantly inauthentic. Indeed most non-Indigenous Australians and visiting tourists cannot readily distinguish authentic First Nations art and craft from imitation products.
There are two key elements that contribute to this situation. The first is that there is no accepted industry standard for authenticity, which is largely reflected by the confusing and sometime deliberately misleading presentation and labelling of these products. The second is that there is a clear lack of effective education about authenticity throughout the supply chain for First Nations art and craft, from the manufacturer to the point of sale.
First Nations artists and their communities feel completely disrespected and cheated by what is going on at the moment, particularly in the souvenir trade. They feel that their cultures are being stolen through the supply of these imitation products. In addition, they are being denied the opportunity to make a living from the obvious interest and market demand for First Nations art and craft.
This unacceptable misappropriation of First Nations cultures cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. These imitation products exist solely to make money. They demean the rich and ancient history of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. These items have a profound and harmful effect on First Nations peoples. They do not teach or inform the buyer about Indigenous heritage as they have no connection to it. Beyond the immediate consequences mentioned above, this situation has a negative impact on Australia’s image abroad.
Four fundamental points must be stressed:
- First Nations art, craft and cultural expressions belong to First Nations peoples. Non-Indigenous artists and artisans should not appropriate or copy this expression in any way, even with good intentions.
- Whilst producing and selling imitation First Nations art and craft is not unlawful, it has a negative impact on the integrity of the ancient cultural heritage of First Nations peoples.
- Any inauthentic piece of Indigenous art, craft or artefact such as a boomerang or didjeridu not made by a First Nations artist is by its very nature and existence purporting to be culturally authentic when it is not.
- First Nations cultures are an intrinsic part of Australian culture and allowing it to be compromised damages the identity of our nation as a whole.
First Nations fine art does not appear to be affected by authenticity issues to the same extent as the souvenir trade. This is due in part to the buyers being more discerning and the need for galleries to protect their reputation by ensuring the provenance of more expensive artworks. There are still troubling issues in this part of the market however such as alleged carpetbagging by unscrupulous dealers and unethical practices by some galleries.
There are of course other examples of individuals and businesses making outstanding contributions to safeguarding Indigenous cultural expressions. Among these are the First Nations art centres which provide opportunities for Indigenous artists, fostering and preserving their heritage. The Indigenous Art Code does an impressive job of trying to get businesses to adopt its voluntary code of practice, and thus behave ethically and responsibly in the sale of Indigenous art and craft.
They need more help however. Many art centres struggle to retain qualified staff due to lack of infrastructure and housing. This has a hugely negative impact on them as a business. They also need greater access to business development expertise. As many of these centres operate in very remote areas, there are obvious social and economic benefits to growing these businesses.
The Indigenous Art Code has only one staff member and cannot fulfil its mandate with such little resourcing, although it has done a remarkable job to date in spite of this.
There is huge potential for great outcomes in First Nations communities with the right assistance to these key entities and the right policies in place. Another policy area of particular interest was the effectiveness of existing copyright and consumer laws to provide protections for First Nations cultural expressions, including art and craft. Current copyright laws are designed to protect the artistic and intellectual output of an individual over a period of several decades, but not ancient and typically communal ownership of cultural expressions.
In terms of consumer law, the ACCC can take action against a company for intentionally misleading its customers about authenticity through the use of information such as labels. It cannot take action however for imitation products that are not explicitly claiming to be authentic.
First Nations cultural expressions will likely need a new and separate framework to be protected under law. The committee understands that this would be a long and complex task but believes that it is achievable and that a consultation process should be started next year.
The issue of labelling was one that came up often during the inquiry. There is currently no consistent labelling used for any type of art or craft product, whether Indigenous or not, and no legal requirement to indicate whether something is authentic.
This lack of any consistency or coherency in how First Nations art and craft items such as souvenirs are marked at the point of sale contributes greatly to the current lack of awareness about authenticity.
The committee welcomes the new digital labelling trial for First Nations artworks to be administered by Desart with government funding support, and awaits the results with interest.
Also of great interest to the committee will be the outcomes of the current Australia Council inquiry into the feasibility of a National Indigenous Art and Cultural Authority. The committee would welcome the establishment of this body and believes that it would play an important future role in deliberating and advising on the issues raised in this inquiry.
The committee has made eight recommendations to the Government that it believes will severely curtail the prevalence of imitation Indigenous art and create economic opportunities for First Nations artists and communities. The intention is to chart a path forward to foster and preserve authentic First Nations cultural expressions for the benefit of all Australians.
These recommendations are also intended to start an earnest conversation among Federal, State and Territory policymakers about the harm caused by inauthentic First Nations art and craft.
The committee recommends the following:
- That the Productivity Commission conducts a comprehensive structural analysis of the entire market for First Nations art and craft. It will be difficult for policymakers to be effective in the future without this information.
- That the Indigenous Art Code be properly funded and a review take place after two years to determine whether this voluntary code of conduct is being effective or whether a mandatory system should be considered.
- That a separate arm of the existing Indigenous Business Sector Strategy be created for First Nations art centres to build their capacity.
- That an Information Standard be developed for authentic First Nations art and crafts.
- That an information guide on authentic art and crafts be developed as a short video presentation to all passengers arriving into Australia.
- That a Certification Trade Mark scheme for authentic First Nations art and crafts be developed by IP Australia in consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
- That funding be made available through the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program to assist artists and art centres affected by carpetbagging.
- That a consultation process be initiated to develop stand-alone legislation protecting Indigenous Cultural Intellectual Property, including traditional knowledge and cultural expressions