Central Australian summit to tackle exploitation of elderly Aboriginal artists | Art and design


Federal, state and territory ministers will meet with Aboriginal artists and organisations in central Australia next month to discuss ways to weed out dodgy dealers who exploit elderly and frail Aboriginal artists for their own financial gain.

The two-day summit – led by minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, Paul Fletcher and the minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt – will be held in Alice Springs at the end of April.

“I want to help to support the cultural and economic interests of Indigenous artists, and provide consumers with increased confidence that they are purchasing ethically sourced art,” Fletcher said.

The forum will be “an important discussion led by Indigenous artists”, Ken Wyatt said.

“We want to see Indigenous Australians empowered to express our culture, history and experiences through art, free from exploitation,” he said.

APY Art Centre Collective (APYACC) directors said they were glad the governments was taking the issue seriously.

“Our art and culture is so much more than a colourful painting on your wall,” APY Art Centre Collective director, Nyunmiti Burton, said. “Our art centres are the only jobs and the only income in APY communities.

“For a long time myself and the other leaders on the APY lands have been fighting the carpetbaggers. Over the past 12 months the situation has gotten worse and we are losing the fight.”

APYACC’s Sally Scales said “fighting carpetbaggers in Alice Springs and protecting vulnerable artists from being exploited has become a full-time job for APY leaders and we have been doing this job for too long without support”.

In December, Guardian Australia reported that unethical practices were again on the rise in central Australia. More than 21 Aboriginal art centres, leading galleries and high-profile individuals then wrote to the federal, state and territory governments pleading for action.

Some letters described mistreatment of often elderly and vulnerable artists.

“We have called police to extricate dialysis patients from painting sheds where they have been locked into premises,” the director of the Purple House dialysis clinic in Alice Springs, Sarah Brown, wrote.

“We have witnessed people being underpaid, paid in alcohol, takeaway food and secondhand vehicles.

“The behaviour of some dealers is unquestionably worse than we have witnessed before. Unchecked we fear it will become worse still.

“People are often sick, poor and desperate for the quick cash that is available to them through these dealers.”

Other letters – from award-winning artists Tony Albert and Del Kathryn Barton, gallerists such as Tim Olsen, writer Richard Flanagan, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Namatjira Trust, the National Art School and eight Aboriginal art centres from the Tiwi Islands to Adelaide – expressed concern about the re-emergence of exploitative practices in the Aboriginal art industry.

The director of the Alcaston Gallery in Melbourne, Beverly Knight, expressed “utter disbelief” that in her 40 years in the industry “many Indigenous artists are still subjected to unfair practice and slavery”.

Knight and dozens of others called for a “total revamp” of the Indigenous Art Code to toughen its powers to weed out “dodgy” dealers. Others recommended the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and police be better supported to protect Indigenous artists.

The South Australian premier and arts minister, Steven Marshall, and Northern Territory minister for tourism and culture, Lauren Moss, are expected to attend the roundtable scheduled for 30 April and 1 May.



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