Selling Yarns 2

Innovation for sustainability



Is Fair Enough?

Session: Policies for sustainability Saturday 7 March 2009 11:20 - 12:40 pm

Tamara Winikoff

Executive Director, National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA)


The media occasionally erupts with horror stories about the exploitation of Indigenous Australian artists and the duress some of them endure in producing art works for a voracious marketplace. While some of this is sensationalism, it is true that many Indigenous artists' work is first sold well under its true value, artists are pressured to produce to a quota in sweat shop conditions, they are not paid for the use of their intellectual property, fake copies are made and sold of the work of famous Indigenous artists, the list goes on.

Indigenous culture is often described as the oldest continuous culture in the world and its vitality and development finds expression in a variety of ways including through artworks. One thing which is greatly valued by art buyers is the cultural authenticity of the works being traded. It also is, of course, the beauty and skill that are evident in the work. But the conditions of the artworks' production and sale continue to come under question as to whether they enhance or detract from the Indigenous communities' cultural health.

So how can a 'fair trade' environment be achieved for Indigenous Australian visual arts, craft and design practitioners?

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) is the peak body representing the interests of the whole Australian visual arts, craft and design sector including serving the needs of Indigenous artists. One of its responsibilities is to develop and disseminate best practice standards for the industry. In 2001 it launched two key documents: Valuing Art, Respecting Culture: Protocols for Working with the Indigenous Australian Visual Arts and Craft Sector and the Code of Practice for the Australian Visual Arts and Craft Sector. NAVA will be expanding its coverage of Indigenous issues in the 3rd edition of this code due out later this year.

In June 2007, a Senate Inquiry published its findings Securing the Future: Australia's Indigenous visual arts and craft sector and the Government responded in August 2008. Prior to the inquiry, NAVA already had begun the research to produce an Australian Indigenous Art Commercial Code of Conduct. The code was one of the key recommendations of the Senate inquiry, and some of this work has been taken over by the Australia Council with advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The Council is finalising a code for dealers in Indigenous art to be released later this year.

What can be achieved by codes like these and what other mechanisms are needed to protect and foster the growth of sustainable Indigenous art practice? In this panel session, Tamara will be talking about the ethics and protocols of sustainable engagement between Indigenous artists and the commercial world.

See also: Tamara Winikoff's biography