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Buying Aboriginal Art and the Indigenous Art Code

Ethical Aboriginal Art- pouring dirt into hands


Hey, I’ve been meaning to post something about the Indigenous Art Code for some time now, years really, but with an increase in unfactual inquiries, the time is now. And clearly, not being a member of the Indigenous Art Code doesn’t make much sense unless I share why.

First, to be clear, the concept of a code of conduct in the Indigenous Art Industry is in the view of ART ARK® as being the best way forward. We seek to engage with and offer free services to that end.

I’m 35. Young for many but I can feel the years catching up with me.

Considering this, I found myself wandering the dairy aisle recently, wondering if healthy cheese existed? On a third pass, I was delighted to spot a 4-star option. You beauty! Cheese is normally a one- or two-star proposition, so I grabbed it knowing it was the healthier option.

Behavioral science dictates that our minds have evolved to unconsciously take mental short cuts to allow us to quickly navigate the endless array of decisions we face. These cognitive processes are known as heuristics and allow us to make quick decisions without any real mental energy or effort.

The four-star cheese was a no-brainer for me despite having no researched knowledge of the Health Star Rating system that I both accepted and made decisions upon.

So, what does the Indigenous Art Code mean to you? Have you read it, or like me and the cheese do you just accept it does as you believe? Is their logo all you look for when looking to buy Aboriginal Art ethically?

The Indigenous Art Code was formed and funded in 2010 by NAVA; later funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. The Indigenous Art Code is a proprietary company run by its members/signees and was founded to combat unethical trading in Aboriginal Art. The code is voluntary and is open to all industry members wishing to sign it.

The Indigenous Art Code formed at a time when I was enjoying a few memorable years working for an Aboriginal Art centre in the Kimberley. At this time, and in the following years, I strongly queried the effectiveness of a voluntary and unenforceable art code based on good intentions.

5 years later I started ART ARK® in a slow-changing industry with my own strong opinion that people, given the opportunity, would want to support and celebrate Australia’s First Nations People, ethically. And five years on again, my initial concerns are relevant with little progress made.

The Indigenous Art Code supports members who say they will 'do the right thing'. Unfortunately, there are no systems in place to define or enforce these 'good intentions'. And with that said, ART ARK® cannot in good conscience, validate the Indigenous Art Code as being a consumer failsafe to buying Aboriginal Art ethically.

Please find below a highlight of the code relating to ethical trading but please investigate further. Here is a link to the Indigenous Art Code Constitution and Code.

2.1 Dealer Members Must Act Honestly

Dealer Members must at all times act fairly, honestly, professionally, and in good conscience when dealing with an Artist, whether they are dealing directly with the Artis or dealing with the Artist through an Artist’s Representative. Examples of conduct that would not meet the required standard include, but are not limited to:

(a) unfair or unreasonable conduct;

(b) undue pressure or influence, including threats;

(c) not acting in good faith;

(d) paying an Artist by means of alcohol or drugs;

(e) unfairly taking advantage of, or exploiting, an Artist; and

(f) paying or agreeing to pay an Artist an amount or other consideration for the

Artist's Artwork that is, in all the circumstances, against good conscience.

 So, hypothetically, if I told you a story about the good folks who openly and unethically trade in Aboriginal Art being given the opportunity to join a code of conduct that verifies and solidifies practices, without auditing or financial repercussions, would they join?

We appreciate the idea of the code but take issue with consumers believing the logo suggests ethical or fair trading. If the artist received 15-20%, or less, of the listed price, would you be happy as the buyer? It could easily be justifiable in regards to promoting the good-will and good-intentions of the Indigenous Art Code. 

ART ARK ® exclusively partners with non-profit Aboriginal Art centres. This ensures a gold standard in transparency and ethical trading. Aboriginal Art centres are audited by the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporation:

And to wheel back round to the cheese(pun intended), whilst the Health Star Rating system is self-managed by industry members in a similar way to the Indigenous Art Code it is also subject to a framework of internal review but more importantly, also subject to public external reviews and research(that is, not commissioned by HSR governance bodies or administrators).

Considering this, an independent review of the Indigenous Art Code, now in its tenth year, is clearly the best step forward.

Life is better with art