Jeremy Eccles | 16.02.17
Author: Jeremy Eccles
The generally positive reception for Bob Katter MP's introduction into Parliament of a Bill to prohibit “unfair practices in supplying and trading in Indigenous art and merchandise”, about which I wrote on Tuesday, lead me to think further and recall a little history.
The Indigenous Art Code – one of three bodies hailing the potential legislation - has sent me further explanation and justification for the Bill:
“It is considered that a legislative solution which makes it an offence to supply or offer commercial goods to a consumer that include Indigenous cultural expression unless it is supplied by, or in accordance with a transparent arrangement with an Indigenous artist or relevant Indigenous community could prove effective”.
Mind you, the offending bit of tourist tat doesn't have to be made in Australia – for “it did not seem appropriate to restrict the methods by which authorised Indigenous art could be produced in a way that did not apply to the rest of the Australian arts community or which might have unintended adverse financial consequences for Indigenous artists and creators”.
So, “The group would support a new division in the Australian Consumer Law (section 50A) that relates to Unfair Practices as the mechanism that would most readily achieve the goal of prohibiting fake art products and merchandise, supporting good practice, empowering the Indigenous creators and protecting consumers. This option draws on the expertise of the ACCC as the existing regulator and on its current enforcement powers without necessitating a new administrative regime”.
All well and good. But what if the Chinese-made bamboo didg with a generic pattern of dots in circles around it doesn't actually have any relationship to a community owning that “Indigenous cultural expression”? I fear we're not going to have progressed matters one whit further than today.
And then I recalled the National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA) , an extremely well-funded body that was going to devise a Label of Authenticity to protect Indigenous product as the 2000 Olympic Games loomed. Now the Commonwealth Games are looming and being used as justification for action, once again hoping to use the services of the pre-existing ACCC, which says quite a lot about Indigenous consumers on its website but not much about Indigenous art-makers. The NAIAA rushed into action with a Nike-like tick well ahead of a sensible preparation period that would have educated consumers into understanding what it was all about, and died a death.
Meanwhile, the Indigenous Art Code has announced an intention to amend its constitution. “The existing Code and Constitution needs to be amended to promote and support best practice and to function well as a voluntary Code (as the Government refuses to make it mandatory on all players). Members of the Code need to demonstrate their commitment to the values and the objectives of the Code. Details of proposed amendments to the Code will be issued with notice of the AGM in early 2017”.
I hear tell that this came as a bolt from the blue to dealer members of the Code, who already felt undervalued by a system that fails to respect their essential role in the industry. And their members on the Code's board were unaware of the changes. As a result, the Federal Arts Ministry has called an all-party meeting later this month to try to produce an atmosphere which recognises that not all Aboriginal art is produced in community art centres and that not all dealers are there to exploit those artists who have chosen to operate independently.