Australia to use QR codes that will prevent exploitation of First Nations art

The Australian federal government has boosted funding to the Indigenous Arts Sector by more than $27 million over the next 5 years.

In a bid to crackdown on fraudulent production of First Nations art, a portion of that funding will be used to roll out QR codes that allow customers to confirm the authenticity and cultural significance of artworks and products.

The funding will also improve internet access around remote and regional Indigenous communities. Up to 80 art centres will be connected to the National Broadband Networks and will be provided with equipment and training to get access to potentially lucrative online markets.

‘Painted Head 118-17’ by June Smith. Image: Keringke Arts Art for Sale

“We’re funding the national rollout of digital labelling, investing in ethical production of authentic art and working with Indigenous communities to explore certification trademarks and new standalone legislation,” said Arts Minister Paul Fletcher.

With so many different avenues to purchase art and products online these days, there are many knock-off commodities made with cheap labour and sold online as a way of appropriating cultures to move with the current trends.

Mimilimaku artists, one of the art centres involved in the NBN trial. Image: Meg Hansen photography

While the QR codes will discern between authentic and imitation products, they will also allow customers to access information regarding the art and product’s significance. This will include whether it is a one-off product, a part of a series of merchandise, a souvenir or a bespoke product.

“It just increases a greater understanding and respect for culture and gives certainty to the buyer that they are accessing an authentic product,” said Philip Watkins, Desart chief executive.

A parliamentary inquiry took place in 2018 on the impact of inauthentic art and craft in the style of First Nations peoples.

It found that indigenous artists and communities were feeling cheated by mass-produced items created by fraudulent companies imitating their designs and stealing their culture.

This isn’t the first time the Coalition has promised to target fake Aboriginal pieces. Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, said he was hoping to “stamp out” imitation products in 2020.

The commonwealth is considering a certification system to ensure that these synthetic items, claiming to be produced by First Nations artists, are easily identified as fake.

Alice Springs-based Indigenous arts organisation Desart started a trial using “digital labels” in 2018. The government is planning on expanding the trial to include another 20 art centres from 2023.