Indigenous Art Market

Paper is finished!

Semester is almost over!

One Final UNESCO simulation and One Financial Management exam and then I am homefree, for a few weeks at least.

At the moment I am sitting in bed with my computer, iTunes library on shuffle, getting ready to start researching the Cultural Policy practices for Brazil, and to be honest I would much rather be taking a nap right about now.  But before I get knee deep in Brazilian policy I thought I would take a moment to reflect upon the paper I just finished.

It was a comparative paper between US policy and Australian policy regarding indigenous cultural heritage protection.  This is a monster of a topic to take on, I realize now.  Initially I thought it would be easier for me as an anthropologist who has studied both topics to compare these two issues.  Oh how I was wrong.  As I began researching I realized just how complicated this issue is in both countries.  Earlier in the semester I had written a paper on The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act 1990, so I had a pretty good grasp on that issue, but I had just recently begun exploring Australian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage issues.  It became clear that trying to find similarities between the two countries policies and subsequent uses was going to be difficult.  It was much easier to explore the differences.  The biggest difference was the role of copyright law in Aboriginal claims, and the lack of use in the US.  Not to say that copyright is never used when dealing with Native American claims, but more often than not NAGPRA or The Archaeological Resources Protection Act are the laws that are used.

In Australia cultural Heritage protection policy requires numerous pieces of legislation that work together and build off each other.  Without The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, copyright law would be much more difficult to use,  Aboriginal heritage laws identify what is considered indigenous culture, which communities must establish before being able to use copyright in many cultural property cases.

While my paper discusses in detail the issues at hand in both countries I wanted to use this post to discuss an issue that I did not look at closely in the paper, due to time and length constraints. If you are at all interested I have posted my paper under Writings or you can click this link to find the paper in it’s entirety.

While researching it became clear that copyright laws play a much bigger role in Aboriginal claims of cultural heritage protection than they do with Native Americans.  It seems that the reason for this is the fact that Australian Aboriginal Art has successfully crossed over into the world of contemporary art and the modern art market.  Contemporary artists such as Banduk Marika often create works that include tribal images and themes.  The international recognition of these works can put cultural property in jeopardy, as the potential for misuse and misappropriation increases.  In 1993 Marika brought a claim against Indofurn Pty. Ltd, a floor covering production compant [Milpurrurru and Ors v. Indofurn Pty. Ltd (1994)]. Indofurn had produced floor coverings depicting “The Dreamtime Story” which is considered the property of the community.

Native American art still lives within the realm of antiquity.  Contemporary Native artists are not recognized internationally in the same way that Aboriginal artists are.  The antiquities trade for Native American artifacts continues to be a major industry in this country.  We still grapple with looting cases even today.  We continue to view Native American culture as pre-colonial.  Not necessarily a living and evolving thing, as is the case with Australian Aboriginal assumptions.  This may be due to the fact that traditional Native American communities are becoming fewer and fewer.  If you head to the SouthWest of the United States you may visit a few reservations but for the most part Native American individuals live outside of the reservation and are more connected with American culture than their native cultural heritage.  I am a perfect example of this.  This being the case, it is not hard to see why we might place cultural heritage in the same sphere as antiquities.  Even the National Museum for the American Indian focuses primarily on cultural material in terms of the past.  There have been a few special exhibitions that feature contemporary Native artists using traditional themes.  But these are few and far between.

This explains why nationally Native artists haven’t crossed over into modern art market.  The next questions is what are the reasons that the art hasn’t crossed into the international art market.  I believe it is because of the way we view the artists and art in this country.  In order for the international community to recognize and accept Native art as a modern art form in contemporary markets, the United states museums and galleries are going to have to do the same.

Just a little food for thought, now on to Brazil

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