Fake Indigenous Australian artworks openly for sale

Indigenous Australians [also known as `Aboriginals’] settled in Australia over 50,000 years ago [some estimates say possibly 100,000 years ago] and created their own cultures that have unique aspects not found elsewhere on earth, such as the boomerang and `dingo’ dogs.

Indigenous Australians across Australia have different languages and varied languages and customs –they also have unique artworks which reflect the different landscapes and topography of the country. Indigenous Australians art is highly distinctive and creative and once you see the styles you quickly identify with them; the exceptional wildlife of Australia – from wombats to echidnas – often feature in the art works.

Australian Traditional Indigenous art includes Rock painting, Wood carvings (Punu), weaving and paintings featuring symbols, cultural aspects and religious influences. Indigenous Australian artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Gloria Tamerre Petyarre have achieved worldwide fame for their artworks and collectors will pay millions of dollars to have an original work by these top artists.

However, recent surveys have found that around 80 per cent of these ‘Aboriginal art’ products marketed to tourists are thought to be fakes, made by either non-Indigenous Australians or else imported from overseas.

Sadly, it appears that many tourists are not overly bothered with the idea of non-Indigenous people creating Indigenous styled art to pass off as legitimate – fakes that compromise Intellectual Property.

As some tourist markets attract international tourists, it’s easy for some people to sell fakes to people that don’t know much about Aboriginal art.

What is the current situation?
According to the Arts Law Centre of Australia, it is estimated that around 80 per cent of the pieces marketed to tourists in shops are inauthentic. The Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) states that fake art is now affecting the legitimate Aboriginal art market.

The problem has become so large that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is taking legal action against a company it claims made misleading representations about Aboriginal people making its’ products; when the products were made and imported from Indonesia.

Spotting suspect fake artworks
Advice from the Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists suggest the following methods to spot a fake:

• Look out for conflicting styles on the same piece
• For example, the x-ray styles of Arnhem Land with the heavy line work of the Kimberley included on the same item
• Varnish on wooden pieces indicates that they are not authentic art works
• Use of glossy paints with very bright contrasting colours

How to fix this Intellectual Property problem?

• Introducing a certification scheme by the commonwealth government so people know they’re buying legitimate works
• Enhanced protection for Indigenous intellectual property
• More legal help for artists who are worried their work has been copied without consent
• Proper labelling requirements for souvenirs sold in Australia

see http://ankaaa.org.au/publication/purchasing-aboriginal-art-ethical-buying-guide/ for further information.