“Aboriginal Art – it’s a white thing” … so Brisbane Aboriginal artist Richard Bell declared in 2002. Bell’s accusation that a white industry controls all aspects of Aboriginal art, even shaping its production through demand for particular types of work, hit a raw nerve that still makes people jump – still, because the same system is in place.
However, like most things, the deeper you dig into this white thing the greyer it becomes. Our research sought to unpack the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous players in this lucrative industry by investigating three of the most successful organisations selling Indigenous art in Australia today (measured by dollar value of sales): one in Arnhem Land, one in Central Australia and one in Brisbane that specialises in urban Indigenous art. Visiting each, we interviewed its invisible white workers and very visible Indigenous artists, intent on hearing their voices.
This article summarises some of our findings.