Aboriginal Art - Take care when buying

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If you are interested in acquiring authentic Australian Aboriginal art, beware of fakes, forgeries and complications in ownership.


Both Aboriginal style art and Authentic Aboriginal art are offered for sale.

Aboriginal style art can be produced by anybody, anywhere.

Authentic Aboriginal art is artwork that has been made by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

The artists name or title of the work sounding aboriginal is not enough proof that it is authentic.

Art advertised under an Aboriginal category does not have to be authentic Australian Aboriginal art.

A photograph of the artist holding the painting can be offered as proof of origin. That is no guarantee that the artist produced that particular work.

People who have bought Australian Aboriginal art and later found it not to be genuine may re-sell with-out disclosing the real facts.  

Carry out research on the painter and seller.  Be informed before you buy.

Aboriginal art catalogues for auctions are a good source for researching Aboriginal painters, paintings and their values.

The Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) have released   “The Purchasing Australian Aboriginal Art Consumer Guide” to help people understand this market. This guide can be downloaded from their web site.

The web site "aboriginalart" provides links to aboriginal owned and operated Art Centers.

Desart is the Association of Central Australian Aboriginal Art and Craft Centres, and is a collective of aboriginal owned and controlled Art Centres. Their aim is to provide support for the ethical marketing and distribution of authentic Aboriginal art.
 Their web site "desart" provides a downloadable brochure called “Purchasing Aboriginal Art” and a list of their membership.


Certificates of authenticity can be offered as proof of origin. They do not completely guarantee that the work is authentic and in some cases have been found to be forged. Some certificates are created by individuals and organizations in aboriginal communities. In order to increase confidence in buying aboriginal art, art dealers issue their own Certificates of authenticity.  The provenance of these Certificates varies between the various creators.

Established art galleries play a special role in promoting aboriginal art, acting as intermediaries and advocates between aboriginal artists and the art buyer. They can provide educated advice for buyers, based upon their knowledge of the aboriginal communities and their art. Aboriginal communities can benefit from the art galleries experience in dealing with the art market, providing advice about issues of authenticity.

The Australian Commercial Galleries Association is composed of individuals and galleries from the Australian Art trade whose mission is to represent, promote and further the interests of Australian commercial galleries whose core business is the ethical representation of living Australian artists.
A further goal of the Association's mission is to develop Australian artists' livelihood.
At their web site you can find a membership list.

The National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA) developed in 2000, the Label of Authenticity, a boomerang styled trademark to protect buyers of authentic Aboriginal art. As of 2006 NIAAA is no longer operating this label.

As of January 2009, there is no national certification system that authenticates Australian indigenous cultural products.

Be aware that sometimes the copyright to an artists work is retained by the artist. This allows the artist to produce and sell copies of this work.

Complications in ownership can occur. It some instances, the owner of the paintings storyline has been named as the painter, or several people may have taken part in the production of a painting.

Claims of exploitation of artists have been made; that artists have been relocated from their communities to work in backyard Alice Springs sweat shops, to mass produce art for purely commercial reasons.


Some paintings are copied in China and Taiwan, called "aboriginal" art, supplied with fake certificates of authenticity, and then imported to Australia to be sold.

Sophisticated techniques in reproductive technologies have made it difficult to determine whether art has been painted in Bombay or Darwin.
The value of Australian aboriginal art has become so lucrative, that the tracing of the origins of the materials in art is used to authenticate paintings. Ochre, a material often used in aboriginal art is able to be traced back to its original source.

The Center for Forensic Science at the University of Western Australia works with Aboriginal communities to develop a process to combat fake aboriginal art. Investigating chemical methods to identify the origins ochre which could then authenticate aboriginal paintings, Rachel Green, a forensic science researcher, then developed a chemical fingerprinting technique by using chemically unique colours that could be added to an artist’s paint. Identification of the painting could then be made at a later date, by analyzing a very small sample of the paint for the particular chemical colour originally added. Working with Jirrawun Arts, in September 2008, a painting by a leading Australian Indigenous artist was fingerprinted using this method.

In order to combat forgeries, an art gallery in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory has introduced the use of a multi layered bar coded microdot system by Idente art.
Idente art has a website where an encoded paintings gallery name, artwork and artist, is archived to a global database. Using this system, online checks can be made on encoded paintings.


About 2% of Australia’s population is Aboriginal and number about 460,000 mostly disadvantaged people. Their life expectancy is 17 years lower than the Australian average.

Because aboriginal communities are usually situated in remote areas; their art is often their only income. The proceeds of the sale of aboriginal art are often shared by the artists amongst their extended families.
Aborigines have a different view of their art, often seeing it as a communal asset.
Their “dreaming” stories have connections to the past, present, and future of their particular tribes and the interpretation of these stories by their artists are viewed as part of this connection and to be shared by all tribe members.

In Australia about 6,000 artists spread over 80 remote outback community’s produce art valued about au$100 million annually. This value had been rising about 30 percent per year over the last decade.
The desert communities of central and Western Australia produce about two-thirds of Aboriginal Art, most passing through Alice Springs, directly to tourists, or shipped to Australian dealers and overseas.

The style of painting called "dot art" has become the most recognizable form of Australian Aboriginal painting. This evolved in 1972 from artists at Payunya, North West of Alice Springs, now known as the Papunya Tula School.

 In the past, their ceremonial art was confined to rock, sand and body art only. The artists use of acrylic paint and other western materials at Payuna, allowed their art to be represented to a much larger audience. Initially only men were involved in the movement, (sometimes called the Western Desert Art Movement,) women joining in the early 1990s.

The highest amount paid for an Aboriginal painting to date, February 2009, is 2.4 million AU dollars (2.1 million US dollars, 1.5 million euros) for Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri's "Warlugulong" 1977.

It is in the interests of art enthusiasts to protect the authenticity of Australian Aboriginal artwork. The sale of copies made by non-Indigenous people not only devalues Aboriginal Art in general but it also means that the profits from these sales will not go to the Aboriginal artist or community.

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