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Fake Art Harms Culture: Highlights from Terri's trip to Cairns Indigenous Art Fair

The best thing about Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) is that it showcases the authentic works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from all over Queensland including the Cape and the Torres Strait. In a tourist town, where there have been so many reported fake souvenir arts and craft items such as bamboo didgeridoos, hand painted backpacker boomerangs and copycat t-shirts, it’s good to see the crowds flocking to CIAF.

This year the message that Fake Arts Harms Cultures was loud and clear. The Indigenous Art Code and the Arts Law Centre of Australia had a stall which displayed dubious examples of fake arts to warn consumers not to be misled and to look closely at the labels to ensure that the items were produced by Indigenous artists. It’s difficult for the law to stop these fakes, Consumers laws which prohibit misleading and deceptive conduct will only apply if there is false labelling. Many items don’t have any labelling but are imported imitation crafts that take legitimate opportunity from Indigenous artisans. Copyright protects original works from being copied. These laws have been useful for Aboriginal artists to take action where a substantial part of their work is copied. However, copyright doesn’t protect clan owned images and designs or Indigenous styles and themes.

This year Bob Katter, Member for Kennedy, proposed a Bill to make it illegal to sell fake Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. The Competition and Consumer Amendment (Exploitation of Indigenous Culture Bill) seeks to "prohibit the supply in trade or commerce of anything that includes an Indigenous cultural expression, unless it is done in accordance with the relevant community and artist and the thing is made in Australia". Whilst the bill has not progressed to consideration by parliament it highlights the need for greater recognition of Indigenous artists’ rights.

At the invitation of the Copyright Agency I Viscopy I participated in a panel discussion focusing on current copyright issues, the Fake Art debate and how these effect Indigenous artists. The Panel was facilitated by Nancia Guivarra from NITV. With me on the Panel was Rhoda Roberts, experienced Indigenous arts and cultural event producer; Judy Watson, Indigenous artist and Patrick Mau (Mau Power) Torres Strait musician. We also discussed protocols, fair use and its potential impact on Indigenous culture. The Panel will go to air on SBS on Monday, 24 July 2017 on NITV at 9pm.

By going to Indigenous art fairs, art buyers can be sure that they are supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. In this way, cultural practices can be strengthened and Indigneous people and their communities can benefit financially.

I came back to Sydney with a new artwork by Lisa Michl of Cape York Arts. I look forward to displaying it proudly in my office.

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