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  6. The Label of Authenticity and the Collaboration Mark
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The Label of Authenticity and the Collaboration Mark

In 1999, the National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA) launched the ‘Label of Authenticity’ (‘Label’) which was designed to provide a national certification system for the authenticity of Indigenous art. The Label was used to show that goods or services were:

... derived from a work of art created by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or people, [and] reproduced or produced and manufactured by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

The NIAAA ‘Label of Authenticity

The NIAAA also established a second kind of label, the Collaboration Mark which was used to certify works which were the result of a collaboration in which an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander had a significant creative input with a non-Indigenous manufacturer or other collaborator under the terms of a fair agreement.

The labels still have protection under the Trade Mark Act 1995 (Cth). In part, the labels safeguard the property and economic rights of Indigenous creators. They also reflect a recognition that consumers are keen to discriminate between ‘rip-offs’ and ‘the real thing’. It was expected that buyers and traders would respond positively to the labels (as occurred with other labels such as the ‘Woolmark’ label which indicates that products are made from 100% Australian wool).

However, the NIAAA was disbanded in 2002 and failed to assign control of the labels to another organisation. The ramifications of this are that it is difficult to gauge the extent of the protection afforded to works that already have the Label of Authenticity or the Collaboration Mark attached, and the labels cannot be used on any new work. Currently there is no national or state body that regulates the authenticity of works created.

Nowadays, in the absence of a certification body or authentication process, artists, art organisations and the like are developing alternative certificates. These generally contain information about the artist (such as their name, date of birth, skin group, clan etc) and perhaps a catalogue number that can offer some protection in terms of determining the provenance of the work. But the primary weakness of the certificates is that, unlike the Label, they do not verify the authenticity of a work.

Discussion points

  • Consider the things that you would need to establish before you considered an artwork to be authentic.
  • What difficulties would be involved in attaching a mark of authenticity to products such as painting and literature?
  • What benefits do you think the labelling system offered?
  • The labels required verification that the artwork was created by an Indigenous artist. Do you think the labels would have been more effective if they represented geographical zones?
  • What alternative measures, if any, do you think could fill this gap now that the labels are no longer in use?
  • What difference, if any, is there between an author who adopts an Aboriginal pseudonym and one who pretends to be, for example, of Ukrainian descent as did the writer Helen Darville (Demidenko)?
  • Does the appropriation of Aboriginal identity have purely commercial motives, or do you think social and/or spiritual factors are involved?
  • What dangers could be associated with the requirement to prove Aboriginal identity?
  • What difference, if any, would it make to you if you learnt that an artwork you had believed to be created by an Aboriginal person had actually been done by a non-Aboriginal person?
  • Responding to an outcry over the alleged ‘co-authorship’ of Kathleen Petyarre’s Storm in Atnangkere Country II, Kathryn Sherer (of Sydney’s Coo-ee Aboriginal Emporium and Art Gallery) said: ‘It is completely appropriate for other people to work partly on the canvas under Kathleen’s tutelage. That’s the way Aboriginal people do it’ (Morgan, 1997). What does this suggest about Ms Sherer’s view of authenticity?
  • It is feared that art buyers and collectors will be reluctant to invest in Aboriginal art if doubts continue to be raised about the authenticity of works. Suggest measures that could be taken at various points of distribution (dealers, art centres, galleries) to ensure that products are genuine Aboriginal art.
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The Label of Authenticity and the Collaboration Mark