Commission takes action to protect First Nations arts and crafts

AUTHENTIC: An original work by local artist Tom Day. Photo by Megan Fisher

According to a Productivity Commission report that recommends mandatory labeling and strengthening of First Nations arts groups such as Kaiela Arts of Shepparton, two out of three Aboriginal-style memorabilia are inauthentic, with no connection to Aboriginal and North Islander people. Torres Strait.

The commission stopped short of recommending laws to prevent cultural appropriation; instead, he called for mandatory labeling of inauthentic arts and crafts that “disrespect and misrepresent culture.”

“Inauthentic products can mislead consumers, deprive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists of income and disrespect cultures,” said Commissioner Romlie Mokak.

“Mandatory labeling would steer consumers towards genuine products and place the burden of compliance on those making counterfeit products, not on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.”

Mr Mokak said labeling was a more practical response than trying to ban inauthentic products.

The commission found that annual sales of First Nations visual arts and crafts, including souvenirs, amounted to approximately $250 million.

Counterfeits had become ubiquitous, accounting for well over half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander souvenir spending in 2019/20.

“Communities have limited legal means to protect their sacred stories and symbols from unauthorized and out-of-context use,” Commissioner Lisa Gropp said.

“Our draft report proposes new legislation that would recognize the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to protect these cultural expressions.”

Kaiela Arts is a member of the Indigenous Art Code, an organization that has lobbied for the legal protection of artists.

“At the very least, as an interim measure, an amendment to Australian consumer law, so it’s illegal for people to sell products that have the appearance of Aboriginal art while having no connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” said Gabrielle Sullivan, executive director of the Indigenous Art Code.

The draft report recommends stronger supports and funding for community-controlled arts centres, but there are also thousands of individual artists who need protection.

Ms. Sullivan said it was important that all measures be practical and easy for First Nations creators and their businesses.

Aurora J. William