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How to ensure you’re fairly purchasing authentic Indigenous art

How to ensure you’re fairly purchasing authentic Indigenous art

Aboriginal artworks are highly valued pieces that hold Indigenous culture and stories within their paint and design.

But as the profile of Indigenous artists has grown so too has the proliferation of fake artworks that are often commercially produced and aimed at the tourism market.

These fake Indigenous artworks deny the artists their income and disadvantage ethical businesses.

Make sure it’s authentic

In many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, art sales are the main source of income.

Australia has an Indigenous Art Code that sets out the standards for the behaviour of galleries and artists trading Indigenous art.

“Making sure you always buy ethically and authentically is not just about protecting the buyer’s investment, it’s about respect for the world’s oldest living culture, ensuring the artists and those around them are paid fairly and securing a sustainable future for Australia’s Indigenous art industry,” the Indigenous Art Code says.

Aboriginal Artist
Aboriginal Artist at work in Kakadu, Ubirr, Northern Territory, Australia. Credit: Shutterstock

Becoming a ‘signatory’ is voluntary. But once a dealer has signed up they agree to adopt a strict framework of ethical standards and to investigate any complaints against signatories who may have breached the Code.

For consumers, the Code sets out requirements and procedures for the issue of certificates of authenticity, known as ‘Indigenous Art Code Certificates’.

Any piece of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art worth more than A$250 that is bought from an art centre (or gallery that sources art from art centres) must come with an official art centre authentication certificate.

If you’re a buyer, insist on it.

Aboriginal artists painting in Derby WA.
Aboriginal artists painting in Derby WA. Credit: Shutterstock

Questions to ask before you buy

According to the Code’s website, anyone looking to purchase Indigenous art for the first time should ask three key questions.

  1. Who is the artist?
  2. Where is the artist from?
  3. How does the artist get paid?

“The origin and history of ownership of a piece of Aboriginal art is both its birth certificate and passport; providing confidence of authenticity and evidence of ethical practices along the value chain,” the Code says.

If you are buying from a gallery, the Indigenous Art code suggests asking the owners how they source their art and how much of the sale price goes to the artist.

“Most ethical dealers are open about their business models.”

“Many get their work from art centres on ‘consignment’ and pay the art centres a fixed percentage when they sell it.”

“Some dealers pay a fair price to artists up front; this price is a percentage of what they know the retail price of the work will be.”

Indigenous artist
Indigenous artist at work. Credit: Shutterstock

5 things to look for when buying Indigenous art

The Indigenous Art Code has a downloadable guide to buying ethical Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. You can print it off to take with you to the gallery or art centre.

Purchasers should look for the artist’s name, art centre and artwork category number.

They should ask for Authentication documentation. This should be on the art centre or gallery letterhead and it should include a photo of the artwork, the artist and the catalogue number.

Indigenous Artworks should also have a copyright and Indigenous cultural intellectual property acknowledgement.

The gallery or dealer should be prepared to answer any questions you might have about the artist and their relationship with them.

They should also have transparent ethical pricing, which usually means a fixed percentage will go to the art centre or artist.

“Making sure you buy ethically is not just about protecting your own investment, it’s about respect for the world’s oldest living culture, ensuring the artists and those around them are paid fairly and securing a sustainable future for Australia’s Indigenous art industry.”

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