An influx of fake Indigenous art from overseas has prompted requests for law reform.

By Lucy Czerwinski and Tim Shepherd

First Nations artists are calling for consumer law reform to prevent the importation of fake Indigenous art.

Indigenous Art Code estimates that up to 80 per cent of all Indigenous souvenirs are manufactured overseas and therefore unauthentic.

An Northern Territory inquiry into fake Indigenous art is underway and has received nearly 150 submissions since August last year.

Indigenous Art Code CEO Gabrielle Sullivan says souvenir manufacturers are misleading consumers by providing fake or non-existent lineage.

“So much of this product doesn’t attribute and artist at all and when you ask the retailers selling it who the artist is they have no idea,” says Ms Sullivan.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission began legal action against Indonesian company Birubi Art who manufacture boomerangs and didgeridoos.

However, Ms Sullivan says she still spots overseas origin stickers on souvenirs since the ACCC case against the company began.

“I’ve noticed a whole lot of products that previously I’d seen still at every airport and tourist shop, they’ve got ‘made in Indonesia’ stickers and ‘made in Vietnam’ stickers on the back,” she says.

The Fair Trading Office identified 12 souvenir retailers for further investigation in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games.

Learn how to purchase Indigenous art ethically from the Indigenous Art Code

Ms Sullivan says fakes are not only unethical but exploit Indigenous culture.

“It’s still stealing from Indigenous culture in Australia, it’s taking something that doesn’t belong to them and they’re making income from reproducing it on those products,” she says.

Dreamtime Kullilla Art head and Indigenous artist Michael Connolly wants to see a ban on all imported ‘indigenous style’ artwork.

“No imports into this country of artifacts; boomerangs, didgeridoos bull-roarers, clap-sticks, all must come through the traditional owners of this country,” says Mr Connolly.

In addition to the influx of fake overseas indigenous art, genuine local artists are struggling to receive adequate compensation from local wholesalers.

Mr Connolly says artists face a dilemma between taking a moral stand and accepting unfair payment.

“The fear is if she doesn’t take that job then she doesn’t have any money at all to pay off her house,” says Mr Connolly.

The inquiry is expected to conduct hearings in Brisbane at the end of the year.