• Ricky Gervais as Tony in Netflix series 'After Life' sitting in front of a fake Aboriginal artwork. (Netflix)Source: Netflix
OPINION: Bundjalung artist, Ella Noah Bancroft explains the damaging impact when fake Aboriginal art stars on the set of the latest Netflix drama 'After Life'.
Ella Noah Bancroft

15 Mar 2019 - 3:10 PM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2019 - 3:14 PM

Ripping off the creativity of other cultures for monetary gain has never felt ethical to me.

In this over-condensed consumption run world of capitalism, it is always so sad for me to see culture stripped and stolen to benefit others. In this instance, its again, the British. I just want to say, our art and culture is sacred and should not be produced by people who do not have any cultural connection to our heritage. 

We currently live in a paradigm of fake identities, fake content on screen and now fake representations of culture. Is anything sacred anymore?

It is unfortunate in this day and age that we have become so removed from our realities, that some people do not even notice when they are offending an entire culture of people. We currently live in a paradigm of fake identities, fake content on-screen and now fake representations of culture. Is anything sacred anymore?

Controversy has arisen over Netflix's recently released “After Life”, a drama series about a man struggling with his grief after his wife dies. The series was written, directed and executive produced by Ricky Gervais.

It's not the context of the narrative or Gervais' performance that alarms me, but the inclusion of a huge artwork in the lounge room, which one would assume was painted by an Aboriginal artist. It uses our traditional style and is depicted as Aboriginal art.

However, after NITV journalist Danny Teece-Johnson put a call out on social media in the interests of finding the - presumably Indigenous - artist, it was revealed (after a Google reverse image search) it was painted by a white British woman who is not Indigenous to this country.

The UK artist, Timna Woollard is a London-based fine and decorative artist who works to commission a myriad of styles.

According to Ms Woollard's website, the featured painting is titled “An Aboriginal Dot style painting”.

Along with this artwork, she has a bunch of other styles such as the Jackson Pollock-style, Matisse-style and Picasso-style.

So where do we draw the line? Is the artist paying homage, or is this a straight rip-off of a culture not her own? 

While Ms Woollard is a working artist in the "decorative" industry, in which her work is made for the purposes of homes, film sets, commercials, leading editorials and books (a which website boasts big-name clients such as Village Roadshow Pictures and HBO), she is naive to the politics and history of our country.   

Firstly, our images and art are directly linked to our stories and our culture, they are sacred and not a 'style' or trend that can or should be replicated. And secondly, such an industry needs to be more culturally aware and sensitive to all our Indigenous cultures around the world and recognise the damage of this cultural appropriation.

This image has and will continue to offend many Indigenous artists in this country as we struggle for recognition not only within our own country but globally.

The artist openly says on her website that she can create copies: "Whatever style, whatever scale". And this is the problem. This is not simply 'bulking up television sets' - it's an uneducated act, lacking of any respect.  

For way too long, Indigenous people have been taken advantage of. For literally hundreds of years, things have been stolen and resold to benefit the elite and create large gaps between rich and poor.

Woollard's online biography states "Always reliable, always respected, widely recognised and one of the industry's best-kept secrets." I bet.  

The irony here is how the country that colonised our Indigenous peoples is now making money from the culture of the Northern Territory's peoples by creating copies of their stories and their imagery.

Therefore, the fact that an Australian Aboriginal artwork is being replicated by the British for capital gain, is actually extremely disrespectful. 

If Ricky Gervais and his production team really wanted to have an Aboriginal Dot paintings as props, would it not seem like an ethical thing to actually purchase from a community and showcase an Aboriginal artist?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could be employing and paying those who not only owned such imagery, but who really need it?

If Ricky Gervais and his production team wanted to have an Aboriginal Dot painting as a display prop, would it not be valuable and ethical to actually purchase from an Aboriginal artist?

The stealing has to stop.

The problem is that the old wounds are still open, they are real for many Indigenous Australians and the lack of sensitivity around these issues is outrageous.

Our country “Australia” is still new in terms of 'a nation', and while we are part of the new world, the stolen lands and the cruelty against the First Australians runs deep through our Indigenous blood. We feel first hand the effects of colonisation and the disparity between races in this country.

I am an Aboriginal artist just like my mother, Bronwyn Bancroft. We are Indigenous artists. I have seen the struggle an Indigenous female artist has to go through in order to tell her story and survive.

When I spoke to my mother, an acclaimed Bundjalung artist, about the recent display of fake Aboriginal art on Gervais' series, she called it an outstanding example of exploitation and gross misrepresentation of a style of Aboriginal Art. 

"It is morally unethical and the fact that is a fake replication is wrong on so many levels. This imagery leads to a dilemma around our cultural connections and fundamental rights to explore our own stories," she said. 

My mother has fought for her place in the art world and is starting to be recognised in her fullness. As such, I also hope that we as a global community can start to lift our Indigenous brothers and sisters up. To recognise them, to pay homage to their talents and remember that their art is sacred.

Our stories, our voices and our work is sacred.

I am waiting for the world to wake up to that.


Ella Noah Bancroft is a Bundjalung woman from the Djanbun clan. Ella's art can be seen at the Boomalli Art Gallery's 25th Anniversary Mardi Gras exhibition Original Box.


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