Arthur Palmer - Aboriginal, Oceanic & Tribal Art

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Is collateral damage from these horrific public revelations going to ultimately destroy the Aboriginal Fine Art market and what is the immediate impact on investment and collectability?

Most of the high profile lucrative Aboriginal contemporary Art industry is produced in remote area Communities of Northern and Central Australia now subject to the Federal Government child abuse intervention policy.

The extensive media coverage, both National and International, of the mobilization of the Army & Federal Police to combat child sex abuse, excessive substance abuse, Family violence, rape and other aspects of criminal social dysfunction within these communities has brought sharp scrutiny of present day Aboriginal community life. The picture painted is not a pretty one. Worse it may be a repulsive image.

When all the dots are joined together are the dots dead?

Many overseas clients are expressing the view that they are not in the business of purchasing art works from a society or culture that abuses children & lead such ugly meaningless lives. The revelation that this situation is not new and has been described by health officials and other academics for several decades is of little comfort. Paradoxically this Art from Aboriginal communities has been the main income earner other than welfare (sit down money) since the late 1960s.

The few older members of these communities who subscribe to a social contract lead diminished and shortened lives. They swim against the overwhelming tide of “monotonous alcoholism, relentless lack of purpose, sham jobs, youth suicide, utter squalor of camp life, internecine violence, collusive embezzlement, thinly veiled nepotism”. These are often the Painters, whose Art derived income supports large and demanding extended kin. This may include those carpet bagger dealers who prey on elderly painters for short term gain at the expense of the genre and reputable gallery credibility.

Aboriginal communities are seen to lack the basic notions of accountability, responsibility, loyalty, trust, love, honor, duty, friendship & decency - A nihilistic climate of no rules, no law, no mores, no realistic expectations & consequently little hope.

Aboriginals have once before been caught stranded by the ebb tide of romantic perception. The predictable fall from the crest of the present romantic wave now risks a rising tide of disfavour that may well prove very destructive & expensive. Estimates of current worth for the Indigenous Art sector range up to $500 million, with annual growth at 40-50% over the past decade. Four peak bodies service around 6,000 Aboriginal artists in 80 remote communities. These Australia Council figures alone send alarm through the Fine Art investment sector with messages of soulless cottage industry scale rather than a spiritually imbued cutting edge art form. Also in the latest Federal Government report is the observation of “a level of anger and conflict in different parts of this sector” and “while some activity is unethical, it is often not illegal.” All very reassuring??

If the time comes when the upper middle class Fine Art domestic & international market looks at a glorious painting from the desert & sees only sexually abused & neglected children crying for help, then collateral damage will be a euphemism in keeping with Failure to Thrive on the death certificate of an Aboriginal neglected/abused baby.

European & USA commentators, collectors & dealers have drawn a parallel analogy with Art from the brutal German fascist school between 1930 – 45. Nazi Third Reich heroic art, no matter how impressive, is neither acceptable nor collectable in the main stream market

Death Certificate of Aboriginal Contemporary Art – Failure to Thrive or Collateral Damage? Either way are the Dots already dead?