Australia’s Indigenous Art Code Revokes Membership of Embattled APY Art Centre Collective

The organization which regulates the First Nations arts sector in Australia has revoked the membership of the APY Art Centre Collective.

The decision from the Indigenous Art Code (IartC) came after the publication of a high-profile investigation into whether the APY ACC allowed white art assistants to paint on the canvas of Aboriginal artists, undermining the authenticity of the works. The investigation also prompted the review and postponement of a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia featuring art works by APY ACC artists.

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The IartC administers a voluntary set of rules and guidelines that Indigenous and non-Indigenous dealers “commit to follow to ensure ethical practices and fair treatment” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in Australia. The Code of Conduct was launched in 2009 to provide “a standard for ethical conduct of dealers of Indigenous visual arts” but is not mandatory under law.

The IartC confirmed to ABC News Australia that APY Art Centre Collective’s membership had been terminated. “In making a decision to terminate APY ACC’s membership, the directors of IartC acted in accordance with the procedure set out in IartC’s Constitution,” the organization said. “IartC rejects the assertions by APY ACC that IartC acted without regard to due process or natural justice, or that APY ACC was not given an opportunity to be heard on the issue.”

The National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition “Ngura Pulka – Epic Country,” originally scheduled to open on June 7, featured 28 paintings from Aboriginal artists from the APY Art Center Collective (APY ACC). It was billed as one of the largest community-driven art projects to be displayed at the Canberra museum. But in early April, the Australian published a report and video alleging that white studio staff had been painting on the works attributed to residents of Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY), sparsely populated lands in remote South Australia home to more than 20 Aboriginal communities.

Video published by the Australian appears to show a non-Indigenous art assistant making creative decisions and painting on a depiction of the Tjukurpa, the creation period of ancestral beings that also formed the religion, law, and moral systems that govern Anangu society.

The newspaper’s four-month report prompted questions about whether the work of white assistants at the APY ACC interfered with the artistic process and its authenticity. It prompted a review from the museum and a government investigation.

The Australian‘s investigative report also raised questions around the ethics of the production and integrity of Aboriginal art in the country amid its rising profile in the art world. The APY ACC includes the famous Ken Sisters, winners of the $50,000 Wynne Prize for landscape painting in 2016. Artworks by APY artists are also increasingly popular at auction, with some selling for thousands of dollars. The National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the Art Gallery of South Australia also have “significant collections of work from the Anunga people of the APY Lands”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

On June 7, the NGA officially announced that “Ngura Pulka – Epic Country” would be postponed.

On June 27, the APY ACC told ABC News Australia that IartC had taken the action to revoke its membership without “regard to due process or natural justice.”

“Our request for the IartC to put allegations to us with precision for APYACC to be able to fairly respond to them was denied,” the APY Art Collective statement said. “The IartC’s prejudgement in relation to these untested allegations is extremely premature.”

Both the APY ACC and the IartC did not respond to requests for comment from ARTnews.

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