Olympic Hosts Remain Sensitive to Native Culture Aborigine Artists Long Exploited

The Florida Times Union, June 25, 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Olympic Hosts Remain Sensitive to Native Culture Aborigine Artists Long Exploited

ALICE SPRINGS, Australia -- A bright-eyed child's smiling face displaying the "spirit of Australia." Tumbling boomerangs symbolizing the limbs of an Olympic athlete. Thousands of colored dots on canvas mapping the nation's vast, dry interior -- spiritually as well as geographically.

The distinctive artforms of Aborigines have become some of Australia's strongest icons, from billboard ads for major corporations to the official logo of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Their work is found in museums around the world.

But Australia's record on its treatment of indigenous artists and the millenia-old culture that underpins their work is stained by exploitation and disrespect.

Since the introduction of modern art materials to a group of Aborigine artists in the 1970s prompted a renaissance, Aboriginal art has grown to become perhaps Australia's most important cultural export. Certainly it's one of the most popular; Aboriginal images now rival Crocodile Dundee and kangaroos as symbols of Australia overseas.

But the surge in popularity has given rise to unscrupulous dealers and manufacturers who are interested in cash, not culture. They have taken advantage of Aborigines, who often live in isolated communities in Australia's vast desert or the tropical north.

Artists whose paintings sell for tens of thousands of dollars have been paid in cans of beer. Ancient taboos have been broken by companies that reproduce sacred totems on dish towels and underwear. Allegations of fakery abound.

"For far too long, many non-indigenous people have exploited indigenous culture through the production of Aboriginal art and cultural products not of Aboriginal origin," says the National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association, a non-government group created to combat the problem.

As the Sydney Olympics approach, "this not only compromises Aboriginal cultural values, but also Australia's international identity and integrity in the tourism market," the group says.

Early this year, the association launched a national system giving approved producers permission to use a special authenticity label -- a guarantee to buyers as well as a safeguard for artists. It is too early to measure the effectiveness of the system, its proponents say.

Aborigine art in the style known as "Western Desert" -- characterized by tiny dots in bright colors forming depictions of Dreamtime stories -- hangs in galleries and private collections around the world.

Similarly, the "X-ray style" -- depicting kangaroo, barramundi fish and other animals in ochre on slabs of straightened eucalyptus bark -- can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at Sotheby's and Christies' art auctions.

More affordable are the millions of artifacts sold daily at tourist stores across Australia. There are carved animals, spears, digeridus -- hollowed-out tree branches that make a rich drone when blown through correctly -- printed T-shirts, scarves and socks.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Olympic Hosts Remain Sensitive to Native Culture Aborigine Artists Long Exploited


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?