Art and craft is integral to the cultural identity, stories and history of First Nations peoples and communities. Different communities have different stories and artistic styles, which only that community is allowed to produce. The art of our First Nations is not simply a collection of design elements in some artistic media presentation, they are in fact a representation of cultural songlines.
When non-Indigenous people copy an artwork without permission or attribution, this has a profound and harmful effect on First Nations peoples and cultures, denigrating the meaning of the imagery and its cultural significance. Consequently, this inquiry has not just been about art, but also about culture.
A number of themes clearly and consistently emerged during the inquiry. Broadly summarised, these are:
- Art and craft is integral to the cultural identity, stories and history of First Nations peoples;
- Most souvenirs sold in Australia that appear to be Indigenous in style are in fact inauthentic and have no connection to First Nations peoples. Most buyers of these products are probably unaware of this;
- Most non-Indigenous Australians and foreign tourists could not tell whether a First Nations art and craft item is authentic or not;
- Current Australian consumer and copyright laws are not fully suited to protecting First Nations cultural expressions;
- The continuing prevalence of inauthentic products is denying First Nations artists and artisans the chance to earn a living from their own culture; and
- Inauthentic art and craft products have a profound and harmful effect on First Nations peoples’ culture and heritage. Beyond the immediate consequences, this has a negative impact on Australia’s image abroad.
Discussions of these central issues and possible responses are discussed in the report. It would be fair to say that almost all of the First Nations individuals, organisations and communities that spoke to the committee during the inquiry are deeply hurt by the sale of inauthentic art and craft. Many regard this as stealing both their culture and potential earnings.
The committee agrees that this misappropriation of culture is unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue unchecked. These imitation products exist solely to make money but they cheapen the rich and ancient history of Australia. These items have no cultural value and therefore do not serve to teach or preserve First Nations culture and history.
It is clear that the increasing prevalence of inauthentic art and craft products indicates a market demand for these items, particularly in the souvenir trade. This demand should be met by the production and sale of art and craft products by First Nations communities, and wherever possible, those items not produced with cultural sensitivity should be labelled accordingly.
Educating the general public about authenticity and creating opportunities for Indigenous artists and artisans to enter these markets are among the recommendations discussed in this report.
The recommendations of this report are intended to start an earnest conversation among both federal and state policymakers about the harm caused by inauthentic Indigenous art and craft. They are also intended to chart a path forward to foster and preserve authentic First Nations cultural expressions for the benefit of all Australians.