Art Around the World

Aborigine Art Warning for the Sydney Olympics

By Tom Gross, August 15, 2000

Tourists planning to visit the Sydney Olympics in September have been warned to be on the lookout for fake aboriginal art. Aborigine organizations are furious that counterfeit items are being mass-produced abroad.

The chairman of the National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association, Charles Perkins, said “Thousands of paintings, didgeridoos, boomerangs, and other small items are being brought in from Indonesia and elsewhere. Unscrupulous imitators are attempting to flood the market with cheap fakes. As a result, there is great anger among the aboriginal people.”

Mr. Perkins added that most aboriginal artists are too poor to take the counterfeiters to court to enforce copyright laws.

The aborigines have long suffered at the hands of Australia’s white majority. Tens of thousands of aborigines were killed by white settlers in the nineteenth century, and in a practice that lasted right up until the 1970s, thousands of young indigenous people were kidnapped and placed with white foster parents or in church-run institutions. Other aborigines were forced to live in fenced-in communities. But the Australian government, fearing a flood of lawsuits, has refused to apologize for the crimes.

Art provides a valuable source of income for the often poorly educated aboriginal communities, some of which have unemployment rates of over 50 percent. This is in spite of Australia being one of the world’s most affluent countries. The aboriginal art industry is worth $150 million per year, a very sizeable sum for this downtrodden minority.

Indeed, the reproduction rights of some of the oldest art in the world the famous colored dots arranged in concentric circles on rocks should be the property of groups living in Australia’s Western Desert. But, to the anger of aboriginal activists, they are frequently printed on T-shirts, baseball caps and mass-produced boomerangs.

New labels proving authenticity of indigenous art are now being produced in time for the Olympics. One aboriginal artist told PaintingsDirect, “We urge visitors to check these labels and to purchase our genuine art. It brings in much needed income and helps to keep our culture alive.”

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.