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Australia Investigates Fake Aboriginal Art


A parliamentary inquiry in Australia is investigating fake Aboriginal art and craft.  The committee has heard from campaigners in Western Australia that up to 90 per cent of Indigenous art sold in souvenir shops was fake and imported from overseas.

Indigenous artists say that current laws protecting Aboriginal art in Australia are inadequate and that fines should be imposed on people selling fake art.  

Campaigners in Western Australia estimate that the vast majority of the pieces sold in the state’s souvenir stores were bogus and shipped in from overseas.

They are calling for better education to help the buying public be more aware of the sensitivities surrounding fakes.  Some of the copies are mass produced in Indonesia and shipped for sale, mostly to foreign tourists, in Australia. Other pieces are made in China.

Some Aboriginal artists in Australia license their work to be legitimately reproduced overseas, giving them a percentage of sales.

Gabrielle Sullivan, from the Indigenous Art Code, which works to protect the rights of artists, says licensing can be a way to make money, but it is important the artist understands the whole process.

“That can be done fairly, ethically and, you know, the artist can be part of that process,” said Sullivan. “The artist can get promotion from that, they can be attributed but that means the artist has to be, you know, taken along for the ride and understand the whole supply chain of how that product comes into being.”

The trade in imitations not only takes income away from those artists producing authentic items.  Aboriginal groups insist that passing off paintings as Indigenous is disrespectful to their ancient culture.  Tribal art is focused on folklore and used to chronicle Indigenous beliefs, including the sanctity of the Earth and stories of creation.

The fake art and craft trade is not against the law in Australia unless imported souvenirs falsely claim to be authentic.  Many souvenir shops stock boomerangs, didgeridoos, paintings, tea towels and ashtrays that have Indigenous themes.

There are fears that the flood of counterfeit items adorned with Indigenous imagery and symbols is pricing genuine products out of the market.