Currently First Nations arts are growing and thriving, with Indigenous arts and culture increasingly reaching more of mainstream Australia. This is all wonderful progress however, the Black Lives Matter movement helped reveal that there has also been a rise in issues such as fake artworks, unfair payments for artists and a lack of acknowledgement and respect for the artworks being sold. It is important for all of us to become aware of these issues and purchase Indigenous artwork from places that are ethical and committed to supporting Indigenous artists talent and livelihoods.
Image sourced from Japingka Aboriginal Art.
The production and selling of fake Indigenous artwork is incredibly damaging to the arts industry and Indigenous culture. The Arts Law Centre of Australia estimates that 80% of Indigenous art on the market is in fact fake, either made by non-Indigenous Australians or imported. Fake artwork devalues and disrespects the genuine artwork by First Nations artists and in many cases is taking away economic opportunities from Indigenous communities.
The production of fake artwork is not only disrespectful because of the loss of economic opportunity and lack of permission, it is also highly disrespectful on a deeper cultural level. There are many artworks that tell stories that are sacred, meaning they are not meant to be viewed by everyone. These artworks tell stories of the Dreamtime and sacred knowledge that is meant only for certain families and communities. Allowing artists to choose which artworks they would like to share is something that is highly important to us here at Yarn.
There have been many attempts to establish quality and ethical standards within the Indigenous art industry. Currently the Indigenous Art Code and the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia promote the integrity, transparency, and accountability of the Indigenous art market. Dealers who sign up to these codes commit to standards including, fair and honest dealings with Indigenous artists, respect for Indigenous artists’ cultural practices, rights, and transparency in the promotion and sale of Indigenous artwork. The implementation of these codes is voluntary so there isn’t a complete widespread usage of them. However, this isn’t to say that nobody does, so keep on eye out for galleries that are members of these codes as it is a great way to guarantee you are purchasing an ethical and authentic piece of artwork.
Typically the best place to ethically purchase Indigenous artwork is from Aboriginal Art Centres. These art centres are essentially brokers between artists and the broader industry. Unfortunately it is not always easy to reach these centres or galleries which are often located in remote areas. However, there are now many online Indigenous art galleries where you can easily access incredible artworks. Here are our recommended websites that sell Indigenous artwork in a fair and ethical way.
Japingka Aboriginal Art
Ochre Painters of The Kimberly exhibition at Japingka Art Gallery. Image sourced from Japingka Aboriginal Art, 2016.
Japingka Aboriginal Art is a specialist Indigenous art gallery located in Perth. They have a physical gallery and an online store where they display a beautifully curated collection of works. The gallery directors have over 30 years of experience working with contemporary Indigenous artists from all across Australia. The gallery sources artworks from Alice Springs, Ampilatwatja, APY Lands, Arnhem Land and Fitzroy Crossing to name a few. Each of these regions has distinct artistic styles and practices. An example of a region with very unique artistic practices is Arnhem land. Their painting style involves cross-hatching, rarrk design and x-ray paintings which they paint with ochre. The traditional x-ray paintings show the artist's intimate knowledge of the land and its inhabitants. Animals are often depicted with full anatomical features (Artlandish, 2020).
The Japingka website also provides an incredible range of resources about Indigenous art including information about dreamtime stories, symbols, colour palettes, history and even lesson plans for schools. Japingka is a foundation member of both the Aboriginal Art Association and the Indigenous Art Code. Through this they are dedicated to dealing art in a way that is fair, honest and respectful of artists’ cultural practices and rights.To browse their collection and purchase your next beautiful artwork click here.
Mijal” artwork by Gwenneth Blintner (Ngukurr woman). Image sourced from Art Ark, 2020.
Art Ark is a purely online Indigenous art gallery that shares artwork from many different regions including the Central Desert and Arnhem Land. They have a particularly strong connection with Warlpiri artists of the Northern Territory. Art Ark has curated two unique exhibitions with Warlpiri Drawings and Yuendumu doors. Both exhibitions by these artists featured the Warlpiri peoples unique use of symbols. These symbols were traditionally traced into the sand as a way of passing dreamtime stories down through the generations. Today these stories continue to be shared through modern art with the use of canvas and acrylic paints.
Art Ark partners with non-for-profit, community governed organisations to share beautiful Indigenous artwork in an ethical way. The partnership with these organisations and art centres enables customers to support social and economic enterprise within communities. By solely working with Indigenous art centres Art Ark stands by their principles of being supportive, sustainable and ethical. You can browse their incredible artwork collection here.
Warlukurlangu Artist painting overlapping concentric circle patterns. Courtesy of Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation, 2021.
Last but not least is of course Yarn's very own gallery, Yarn Gallery. We provide an online gallery dedicated to exhibiting a wide range of original artworks by First Nations artists from across Australia. The gallery presents an incredibly diverse range of artistic styles and colour palettes unique to different regions. Yarn Gallery aims to provide Indigenous artists with a platform to gain recognition, and also inform the wider Australian community about Indigenous art and culture by bringing authentic First Nations artwork into their homes.
Yarn Gallery offers a number of incredible original paintings by First Nations artists from Warlukurlangu Artists, an art centre based in the remote communities of Yuendumu, Central Australia. Their artists gloriously colourful acrylic paintings of Jukurrpa's (Dreaming stories) are world renowned. Yarn Gallery also features works by artists from Mornington Island Art Centre. Mornington Island, also known as Kunhanhaa by the Lardil people, is located in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland. The artists are known for their paintings that are full of richness and vibrancy that represent their connection their land, lore and culture. All of the original artworks from Yarn Gallery come with a certificate of authenticity. You can browse Yarn Galleries full selection of artworks here.
If this inspires you to add an ethical piece of artwork to your home, we encourage you to look for transparency on gallery websites. This involves looking for key details such as the name of the artist, their community, the region they are from and whether the gallery is a member of the Indigenous Art Code or the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia.
At Yarn, we conduct artist partnerships in a supportive and ethical way. You can find out more about our artist partnerships and support of Indigenous communities here.