• Pitjantjatjara artist, Kathleen Buzzacott, is on the board of the Indigenous Art Code and welcomes the inquiry by the Productivity Commission. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The Productivity Commission has launched an investigation into inauthentic First Nations arts and craft, and the impact imitation has on both artists and communities.
Shahni Wellington

5 Aug 2021 - 6:32 PM  UPDATED 5 Aug 2021 - 6:32 PM

First Nations artists hope to see an end to the theft and imitations of cultural styles, as the government's independent advisory body, the Productivity Commission, begins a deep-dive investigation into the sector. 

It comes more than two-and-a-half years after the House of Representatives handed down its final report into the impact of inauthentic art and craft on First Nations artists in 2018.

An inquiry was the first recommendation made by the standing committee, which travelled across the country to hear first-hand experiences of artistic theft, and received more than 160 written submissions.

The 15-month-long study aims to address deficiencies in both the local and international markets.

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Pitjantjatjara and Western Arrente artist, Kathleen Buzzacott, is on the board of the Indigenous Art Code, a voluntary system currently working to preserve and promote ethical trading in Indigenous art.

Ms Buzzacott told NITV News that the inquiry is welcomed.

"It's been going on for such a long time," she said, speaking personally of art styles being stolen by non-Indigenous artists over her 26 years in the industry. 

"We've got to get more stringent things in place so that people know that there's consequences for doing that kind of thing."

The focuses of the inquiry as listed in the terms of reference include investigating methods of limiting inauthentic products, assessing the impacts on First Nations artists and stakeholders on such products, and shaping policies around regulation.

While the investigation is only just beginning, Ms Buzzacott said things can only improve.

"Whatever they do, it's going to be better,"

"We need to help First Nations artists too with legal options... especially when people don't really know what their rights are or what to do if they're being copied or things like that," Ms Buzzacott said.

The Productivity Commission will hand down its final report by the end of next year.

"Vital part of Australia's identity"

The Productivity Commission inquiry was announced by the federal government on Thursday, ahead of the Prime Minister's Closing the Gap address.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said the study would follow up on an alarming statistic made in the 2018 report - 80% of souvenirs sold in Australia purporting to represent First Nations cultures are in fact imitation products.

“We know that a significant and increasing proportion of products in the ‘style’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts that are sold in Australia are imitations, which mislead consumers and provide no economic benefit to their communities,” Minister Wyatt said in a statement.

“These imitation products also cause offence and do not have any connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures, which is why this inquiry will enable us to maintain an equitable and authentic arts and crafts market.”

The Commission has been instructed to consult "broadly," particularly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations.

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