Moving at the sort of lightning speed that we’ve come to associate with the rescue of Afghan translators from Kabul and the delivery of COVID vaccinations in Western Sydney, the Federal government has asked the Productivity Commission to spend the next 15 months investigating the Indigenous art industry. Here’s its justification:

“The House of Representatives ‘Report on the impact of inauthentic art and craft in the style of First Nations peoples’, tabled in 2018, found that there is a lack of information and analysis on the markets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts. Recommendation 1 of the report stated: The committee recommends as a matter of urgency that the Productivity Commission conducts a comprehensive inquiry into the value and structure of the current markets for First Nations art and crafts”.

How fascinating that a neo-Liberal government would think that the most important aspect of an art-making that it recognises is “an important way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to tell stories, share and strengthen cultures and connection to Country, promote understanding of history, strengthen communities, and expand economic opportunities. (Also) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is a vital part of Australia’s identity and makes a large contribution to the economy”, should think all its problems can be answered by studying “the nature and structure of the markets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts”.

Which raises the vital question as to whether the community art centres around Australia are part of the production or part of the market. When it comes to resale royalty, they deny being part of the market. But it is where most of the remote, ‘classical’ art is encouraged and produced, and then remunerated. It’s also where the potential for problems first arise regarding the agency of individual artists to develop personal careers like the late Mavis Ngallametta and Tommy Watson.

In ‘exclusive’ reportage of this announcement, ‘The Australian’ put particularly emphasised that “The Productivity Commission will launch a major investigation into fake Indigenous arts and crafts, focusing on inauthentic souvenirs and other goods that the government believes damage Australia’s identity”. Apparently, the government believes that “80 per cent of all souvenirs sold as Indigenous in Australia were not genuine”. Yet they refuse to do anything meaningful under the Trade Descriptions Act to sort out that problem.

Hopefully, ‘The Australian’ is wrong in assuming this will be the Productivity Commission’s main priority, for it’s surely a comparatively minor part of the big picture of an industry where there should be a clear distinction between high art and tourist souvenirs. Making the authenticity of the art clearer is what really matters, and I’m reminded that the government gave $150,000 in 2018 to Desart in Alice Springs to develop a digital labeling system. I wonder where that is?

And I wonder whether that toothless tiger, the Indigenous Art Code may get some dentures?

Terms of reference for the Productivity Commission direct it to look at regulatory and non-regulatory solutions, including labelling and certification. According to ‘The Australian’, Indigenous Australians Minister, Ken Wyatt “has signalled a willingness to impose ‘enforceable solutions’”.

At least a financial body like the Productivity Commission should be able to resolve the great unknown – how ‘big’ the industry is. Its final instruction is to “indicate any quantitative estimates of the benefits, costs and commercial impacts of policy reforms”. But only “where it is feasible”. How hard can it be?

I trust well-informed Aboriginal Art Directory readers will take the opportunity to send in submissions.

And while you’re in the mood to fill in forms, it’s already time to nominate candidates for the Red Ochre and other First Nations awards for 2022. While the Red Ochres recognise: Lifetime contribution to First Nations Arts nationally and internationally; Lifetime contribution to the First Nations community; Artistic Leadership; and Arts practice for both male and female stars, there are also the Dreaming Award for an emerging First Nations artist and a First Nations Arts Fellowship to support the creation of a major work by an artist.

Nominations close on 12th October and the results will be known on 27th May next year – Mabo Day. And may a winner emerge deserving of standing beside Mavis Ngallametta (again), John Mawurndjul, Hector Burton, Banduk Marika, Gawirrin Gumana and Mick Namarari.


Artist: Mavis Ngallametta, Tommy Watson, John Mawurndjul, Hector Burton, Banduk Marika, Gawirrin Gumana, Mick Namarari,

Category: Art Prize , Blog , Feature , Industry , News ,

Tags: banduk marika , desart , gawirrin gumana , hector burton , john mawurndjul , Ken Wyatt , Mabo Day , Mavis Ngallametta , mick namarari , Productivity Commission , Red Ochre , tommy watson ,