You Can Help Respect and Protect Indigenous Art and Culture

You can help ensure that Indigenous art and culture is respected and protected

Indigenous Australians’ art and culture is a highly regarded and much publicised feature of Australian society. Commercial operators who deal with Indigenous art, play a key role in ensuring that Indigenous art and culture is respected and appreciated, rather than exploited.

Below are some tips to equip you with the skills to support and respect Indigenous culture by engaging in ethical working relationships with Indigenous artists. For more information visit our Artists in the Black website and info hub for more information on Indigenous Intellectual Property developed by the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

1.       No understanding = no deal

If you are entering into an agreement with an Indigenous artist and the artist doesn’t understand the agreement properly, then you don’t have a deal. Make sure you explain everything to the artist clearly. If necessary use an interpreter.

2.       Indigenous people are generous. Do not take advantage!

Just because an Indigenous person shares something with you does not mean you can do what you like with it. You must get informed consent to use Indigenous material and information.

3.       Get permission before taking photos

You should always get permission before taking photos of an Indigenous person. If you want to use the photo for anything other than personal use, including putting it online, you should get written permission (a release). This needs to be explained properly, using an interpreter if necessary.

4.       Is it authentic? Whom are you buying from?

The authenticity of Indigenous arts and crafts can be an issue. Check out who is selling the art or crafts. Indigenous-controlled art centres and art dealers registered with the Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct (the Code) are good starting points. NOTE: Some certificates of authenticity cannot necessarily be relied upon. Look for works which have a Code-compliant certificate.

5.       Made in China souvenirs –

5.1   (for consumers) Do you want to buy an authentic Indigenous souvenir? Check where it was made

There are many “Indigenous-style” souvenirs such as boomerangs and other artefacts which are not made by Indigenous people but are imported into Australia from China and South East Asian countries. Support Indigenous people and buy authentic Indigenous products. Check the label –  don’t buy a cheap substitute.

5.2   (for commercial dealers) Offer tourists the real deal. Make sure your “Indigenous” souvenirs are made by Indigenous people.

Do the right thing by Australia’s Indigenous people and our tourists. There are many “Indigenous-style” souvenirs such as boomerangs and other artefacts which are not made by Indigenous people, but are imported into Australia from China and South East Asian countries.  Support Indigenous people and make sure you sell authentic Indigenous products.

6.       Collaboration is about respect

When  non-Indigenous people want to work collaboratively with Indigenous artists on a project. they should follow Indigenous protocols. Protocols concern how Indigenous artists want to be consulted; whether they consent to be involved; how their contributions will be acknowledged; and the benefits (eg. money) that will be shared. Non-Indigenous people must be prepared for Indigenous artists to say “no” and to accept that answer. Collaboration is about respect.

7.       Copyright in artworks – who owns it?

If you purchase an artwork, you own the artwork but not the copyright. Australian copyright law gives artists the right to decide who can copy their work. This means you cannot reproduce an artwork without the artist’s permission. The artwork is yours to enjoy, not exploit. Respect Australia’s Aboriginal artists.

8.       Respecting culture – using Indigenous music

Music is a special part of Indigenous culture. You need to respect that culture if you want to use Indigenous music. Some things you need to think about are:

  • What are the cultural protocols which should guide your music project?
  • Do you have a clear permission to use Indigenous music?
  • Do not film or record Indigenous musical performances without permission. Indigenous musicians have performers’ rights.
  • If an Indigenous person or community has let you use their music, how will the community be acknowledged and how will you share the benefits with them?

9.       Respecting culture – writing about Indigenous culture

Stories are very important to Indigenous culture. It’s an oral tradition so writers have to be very careful to follow protocols when writing about it. As a writer, you need to think about:

  • What are the cultural protocols which should guide your writing project
  • Whether you are the right person to tell the story if it is about Indigenous people?
  • Don’t write down Indigenous peoples’ stories unless you get their permission.
  • If an Indigenous person has let you tell their story how will you share the benefits with them?
  • It’s best to have written agreements to make sure everyone understands and consents to the project.

10.   Filming in communities

If you want to film in an Indigenous community, whether for a film project or just as a visitor, you must respect Indigenous protocols and make sure you get permission. You need to allow enough time to get proper consent. If it’s for a film project, it may be useful to employ a local person to liaise with the community. You will need a special permit or a location release for some locations (eg. Uluru).

11.   Displaying artwork

Many Indigenous artworks contain traditional cultural knowledge belonging to the artist and their community. When displaying Indigenous artwork, it is important not only to acknowledge the artist but also the community which is the source of that traditional cultural knowledge. Proper attribution shows respect for artists and their culture.

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