When Luritja woman Sonda Turner Nampijimpa paints, she’s also telling the stories of her people passed down through generations.
- A new report has found of the $250 million spent on Indigenous artworks in 2019-20, $54 million was spent on fake products
- It also found two-thirds to three-quarters of Indigenous souvenirs were not made by First Nations artists
- The report recommended a labelling scheme for inauthentic products and stronger cultural protections for artists
Her latest painting is of what she describes as an “old story” — old women sitting together, digging deep into the ground for witchetty grubs and honey ants.
“My family taught me painting when I was a teenager,” she said.
“I teach my grand-daughter when I go back home”.
So when Ms Turner Nampijimpa sees fake Aboriginal art, in which non-Indigenous producers misappropriate these sacred stories, it hurts.
“They just want to make more money for themselves,” she said.
A Productivity Commission report released on Tuesday found sales of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual art and craft totalled at least $250 million in 2019-20, and delivered income to almost 20,000 First Nations people.
But it also found that more than a fifth of that, $54 million, had been spent on non-Indigenous authored products.
Fake art was found to be “rife” in the souvenir market, where the commission estimated that two-third to three-quarters of products were now non-Indigenous authored.
“Sellers, and some buyers, might benefit from trading in inauthentic products. However, these products can displace sales of authentic goods, depriving communities of income, and can mislead consumers as they are often marketed in ways that suggest they are authentic, undermining trust in the market,” the report read.
It also found First Nations artists’ designs were much more likely to be plagiarised than those of non-Indigenous artists.
“While copyright infringement is a risk that all artists face, commission analysis indicates that compared to listings for Australian art generally, listings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designs are twice as likely to be the result of a possible copyright infringement,” it read.
Action needed to address ‘misappropriation of culture’
More inauthentic Indigenous art entering the market isn’t the only problem.
The Productivity Commission report also found that communities had limited legal avenues for preventing the misappropriation of “sacred cultural symbols and stories” on inauthentic products.
It recommended the introduction of “mandatory disclosure” regulations, where producers of inauthentic products would have to label them as such.
Commissioner Romlie Mokak, who is also a Djugun man and a member of the Yawuru people, told the ABC that a labelling requirement would ensure buyers were better informed about the art they bought.
“If a product has not been made by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, or under licence with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, that product should carry a label,” he said.
“So ultimately the consumer, the buyer, can go ‘okay, given the option, I’ve got an authentic product, or an inauthentic product with the label on it, I’ll make a decision about where I want to spend my hard-earned [money].'”
The commission also recommended the introduction of “cultural rights” legislation which would allow traditional owners to protect cultural assets.
“These might be things like sacred images, or sacred stories, motifs [which are] passed down through multiple thousands of generations, but easily plagiarised and put on things that are completely inappropriate,” he said.
Mr Mokak said the spread of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander was a misappropriation of culture and was causing “collective harm to a people”.
“Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander artists, they’ve said directly to the commission, that when when they see their art, their work, their sacred designs being misappropriated, it actually makes them sick,” he said.