The Bulletin


Indigenous art market: looking out for unethical practises (& how to support Inidgenous artists)

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Indigenous art carries a long and vibrant tradition that makes it one of the most sought-after artforms in the world. Whilst this is a wonderful thing for Indigenous art, culture and the wider community, it has made it a target for unethical practises.

If you’re looking to buy Aboriginal art dot paintings, bark paintings, wood carvings or another style, ensure that you look out for unethical practises, those that we will look at below…

Look out for the following when purchasing Indigenous art

There is an unfortunate method for certain dealers to pick up valuable Indigenous works for a fraction for their value. They go into remote Indigenous communities, hand the artists some art supplies, give them some time to work before purchasing them for meagre sums of money.

They don’t just stop at one community: they actually take their time to travel from place to place, ripping off talented Indigenous artists for their time and creativity. Unfortunately, these pieces often end up in the galleries and museums of curators who know exactly what has occurred.

What’s even more unfortunate, they often end up in the homes of art enthusiasts who never stopped to consider that this form of exploitation still exists in modern Australian art. Whilst it may seem as if the artist has been paid for their work, the time, effort and creative endeavour that goes into creating the work is often a poor reflection of the price on paper.

But, the artist has still been paid, right?

To put it simple, no. These unscrupulous dealers pay very meagre sums for these valuable works before taking them to their galleries and selling for a huge profit increase. Not only this, they may also display them in an Indigenous gallery far from where they were originally painted and profit greatly from entry fees.

This kind of exploitation is thrust upon the unknowing public typically without their knowledge or consent, and this is why it’s such an important thing to look out for when purchasing Indigenous art or visiting a gallery (Indigenous or not).

How you can support ethical Inidgenous art

Indigenous art is the longest unbroken artform in history, dating back a massive 40,000 years. Therefore, its artists and their works deserve the respect of people willing to reflect their efforts.

Australia’s Indigenous art scene is thriving, with people all over the world eager to hang one of these vibrant pieces on their wall. And, thankfully, when purchased ethically Indigenous art is a valuable aspect of the community, creating jobs and educating on Indigenous culture.

To ensure you are buying Indigenous art ethically, it’s important to follow a few protocols before making the purchase. Think of the following, and ask your dealer:

  1. Who is the Indigenous artist & where are they from?

  2. How did you source this particular artwork for your store or gallery?

  3. How did you go about paying the artist for their piece?

  4. Is this a reproduction of another piece? And if so, does the artist receive a commission or royalties for having it reproduced?

  5. Do you stand to make a great profit margin off this piece?

If your dealer is unable to give clear, concise and, most of all, just answers to these questions then there is a problem. A dealer knows their craft and knows very well how they acquired their collection, and if they are unable to provide you answers to these simple questions then you have to assume they have acquired them unethically.

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