An Indigenous artist has expressed her shock and frustration after she was approached by Qantas and asked to work for free during NAIDOC week on a project she considered culturally inappropriate.
Artist Elizabeth Close is a Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara woman from the APY Lands in Central Australia who posted her experience on her Facebook page, stating that Qantas had offered her "exposure" instead of payment. The company asked her to paint totems and words in language on crockery for the airline's first and business class passengers.
Close told NITV News it was unacceptable to ask any artist to work for free.
"It was pretty bad. It was just weird; the whole thing was just strange," she said.
"Whilst I appreciate that to them, their intent is good - the reality is that Qantas are seeking to exploit an Aboriginal Artist to make themselves look culturally aware. Sit with that for a moment."
"I’m not confrontational, but I had to tell them this is not cool. You just don’t do this.
"You’re a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation – find [the money]!"
Qantas recorded an underlying before tax profit of $1.53 billion last financial year, which the company boasted was its best result in its 95-year history. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was reportedly paid almost $13 million for the same period.
Close said that while it was positive that Qantas was engaging Indigenous artists, not paying artists for their work was unacceptable.
"Of all the weeks to ring an Aboriginal artist and ask them to work for free, this is not the week to do it," she said.
"Ultimately, they are wanting to improve their image, they are wanting to appear culturally aware, and they are seeking to exploit me in the process."
She also said the work she was asked to do was outside her area of expertise and that it was not culturally appropriate.
"They obviously hadn’t looked at my work. That’s not what I do, I don’t paint a lot of stuff like that. If you wanted someone who painted animals I could point you in the direction of another artist," she said.
"Basically you are just saying you can just pick any generic Aboriginal artist and get them to paint generic Aboriginal things and that will suffice."
Close said Qantas had since contacted her and apologised for the incident.
A spokesman for Qantas initially told NITV News that the incident was just a misunderstanding and no offence had been intended, but later confirmed Close had been approached to work for free by Qantas and that the team involved were to receive cultural training.
"We spoke with Elizabeth yesterday and apologised. Elizabeth understood that no offence was meant to be caused," the spokesman said in a written statement.
"We explained that while the staff member had good intentions to mark NAIDOC Week, it wasn’t appropriately handled."