Birubi Art was found to have made false or misleading representations that its products were made in Australia. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
The practice of faking art on the cheap and selling it as the real deal is almost an art itself.
- ACCC says Birubi Art’s inauthentic product misleads customers and hurts the wider industry
- The company will return to court next month to learn what penalties will be handed down
- One Darwin store owner says some people “don’t mind” buying Birubi Art’s product “if the price is good”
But this week consumer law caught up with major Aboriginal art wholesaler Birubi Art, a company the Federal Court found had misrepresented the origins of their products.
Far from a benevolent problem though, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said the practice was hurting the industry.
The court found that Birubi Art had made false or misleading representations that its products were made in Australia and were hand-painted by Australian Aboriginal artisans.
Over a period of two and a half years, Birubi sold more than 18,000 boomerangs, bullroarers, didgeridoos and message stones to around 90 shops in tourist hot spots across Australia.
“That has a twofold impact,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court explained.
“It has an impact on the consumers who are not getting what they paid for, but also it has a significant competition impact as well because there are other people who are producing authentic art being impacted negatively by the whole suggestion of the lack of authenticity in this industry generally.”
The company and the ACCC will return to court next month to hear what penalties will be handed down — under consumer law, the maximum penalty per contravention is $1.1 million.
One Darwin store owner says some customers don’t mind if the art is not authentic. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
“The problem in the case is that despite that imagery being used, all of those products were made or produced in Indonesia, brought into Australia, [and] then sold as having been made in Australia or hand-painted in Australia by Indigenous artists,” Ms Court said.
“This complaint came to us from stakeholders who are in authentic arts, [a] significant income source. So clearly … you have a situation where traders are making claims that they have been produced authentically when that’s not the case.”
In a statement, Birubi Art said the company’s intention was to provide quality art products and souvenirs that are fully compliant with the Australian Consumer Law.
It also said they would be contacting their customers to ensure they had received additional labelling for all hand-painted products.
Not all customers seeking authenticity
Annie Jiang, the manager of a tourist shop in Darwin that stocks both Birubi Art and authentic local art, said not all customers were seeking authentic products.
“Some people who come here prefer the local product, they like to purchase the Aboriginal art made locally,” Ms Jiang said.
“But some customers just like the pattern and they don’t mind.
“If the price is good, if the pattern is what they like, they will purchase. It really depends on the customers.”
Louise Numina says tourists often ask her about the stories behind her paintings. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
Darwin-based artist Louise Numina is often employed as an artist in residence at galleries, and said she happily fields questions from curious tourists about her art.
Each brushstroke shows memories of growing up on Sterling Station, near Utopia in Central Australia.
“I paint bush medicine leaves, bush tucker, and women’s ceremonial body paint,” Numina said.
Darwin gallery owner Loretta Rydges has traded for 18 years, and said she believed tourists and locals alike were increasingly looking for clear authenticity in the Aboriginal art they purchased.
“We attach a certificate of authenticity which is about the artist and about the artwork, as well as progress shots or a photo with the artist, and their signature on the back,” Ms Rydges said.