Unreserved44:03Copycats and copyrights of Indigenous art
You’ve got probably seen Andy Everson’s work – without even knowing it.
The K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw artist is the creative mind behind a well-liked Every Child Matters logo that is on orange T-shirts across the country.
“The Every Child Matters [image] is near and dear to my heart … having ancestors and relatives that went to residential schools. So I made this image available for people to make use of … and likewise for the Orange Shirt Society to have the opportunity to supply official shirts,” Everson told Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild.
Everson had one stipulation for those using the image: that proceeds from selling items with it return to Indigenous non-profit organizations.
But after the revelations of suspected unmarked burials at the positioning of a former residential school in British Columbia, demand for orange shirts and Every Child Matters paraphernalia skyrocketed.
“People began to put [the image] on every little thing and selling it in all places,” Everson said. Lots of these sales — a few of them by online businesses positioned overseas — weren’t going back to Indigenous organizations, he noted.
His experience with the Every Child Matters image is only one example of the best way non-Indigenous people and businesses take advantage of Indigenous artists’ work.
Everson said he did not have the time or resources to pursue legal motion. So there wasn’t much he could do to stop businesses from making the most of his work and the outpouring of support for Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
A world industry of pretend Indigenous art has made it harder for Indigenous artists to make ends meet doing their work. To Indigenous artists, it is also cultural theft.
The industry ranges from designs copied onto apparel and residential decor to carved masks and totem poles, reproduced in Asia and Eastern Europe and sold cheaply. The industry of pretend Indigenous art also includes massive fraudulent art rings.
While the issue of copycat Indigenous art has been happening for a few years, Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons are pushing for legislative changes to guard artists’ work, and to make sure profits return to the artists and their communities.
‘Art fraud is big’
Sen. Patricia Bovey, the primary art historian to take a seat within the Canadian Senate, estimates that the industry of fraudulent art costs Indigenous artists thousands and thousands of dollars.
“Art fraud is big. It comes right after problems with the illicit drug trade and firearms,” Bovey said.
It is vital that Indigenous artists are compensated for his or her work, she said, adding that art collectors and consumers should get what they pay for.
On March 3, Thunder Bay police and the Ontario Provincial Police announced eight arrests following an investigation right into a ring of pretend Norval Morrisseau artwork. Over 1,000 paintings had sold for tens of 1000’s of dollars to “unsuspecting members of the general public,” in line with police.
Morrisseau, the famed Anishinaabe artist who popularized vivid and vibrant Woodland style art, died in 2007.
Bovey was working on the Winnipeg Art Gallery when Morriseau and other Indigenous artists founded the Indian Group of Seven (now referred to as the Indigenous Group of Seven) in Winnipeg within the Nineteen Seventies.
“I do know that for a few years, public collections have been looking very fastidiously at their holdings of Norval’s work to make sure that they’re right, and a few [fraudulent] works have been sussed out that way,” Sen. Bovey said.
But, she added, “I believe many individuals were duped.”
‘Every thing I produce has a meaning’
Richard Hunt is a Kwagiulth carver who has been vocal concerning the problem of pretend Indigenous art for so long as he’s been making it.
Hunt, whose work has been replicated persistently, recalls seeing a picture on Facebook of certainly one of his sun masks.
“I used to be going, ‘Wow, is that ever a pleasant picture of my work,'” he said. “But then I spotted that it was a vinyl cut-out.”
Hunt said there was nothing he could do. He didn’t know who had made the replicated mask or where they lived.
“Every thing I produce has a meaning,” he said. “I do not make a mask simply to make a mask. I mean, you might wear it in a ceremony. And all these other persons are just in it for the cash.”
Hunt wants the federal government to place costly duties on items with Indigenous designs coming into the country. He hopes this might force sellers to extend prices and, ultimately, curtail sales of those inauthentic items.
Bovey believes border checks for art in Indigenous styles may be a positive step.
“The Copyright Act gives artists the rights of their work, but you may have to go after the rights of your work,” she said. That requires hiring a lawyer and most artists cannot afford that expense, she added.
It’s really vital that we try to maintain our culture. It’s certainly one of the last things we now have left.– Richard Hunt
Bovey noted that the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which got here into effect in america within the Nineties, created a fund to assist tribes and individuals with legal fees related to court proceedings. She said an identical fund can be very helpful to Indigenous artists here in Canada.
In September 2022, Bovey asked Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller how the federal government is addressing the problem of reproduced Indigenous art through the Senate’s query period.
“It’s immensely frustrating to see these original pieces of art being reproduced, and correspondingly undervalued. Currently, there shouldn’t be a ton of initiatives which are being undertaken to deal with this,” Miller said.
“I appreciate you highlighting that, and it’s something that, perhaps, might be tackled in the approaching years with proper community consultation.”
Makes market harder for young artists
Erin Brillon says the web has made it easy to duplicate Indigenous art.
Brillon, a Haida and Cree artist and business owner, has seen the harm that the industry of copied art has caused her husband, Everson, and other Indigenous artists.
These corporations often get shut down, but like a game of “whack-a-mole,” they’ll pop back up every week later after changing their name and web address barely, Brillon said.
The flood of things at low cost prices actually makes it harder for young or recent artists to get into the market, she said. However the industry of pretend Indigenous art affects greater than artists’ pocketbooks.
“Our art has been commodified, and the individuals who profit probably the most from our artworks should not the Indigenous artist that it comes from,” Brillon continued.
“That is been happening because the starting of colonization, because the time that our totem poles have been stripped out of our villages and all of our ceremonial objects have been taken from us.”
Hunt is hopeful that Bovey’s passion for the cause will make a difference. For him, it’s “now or never” to create laws that may protect Indigenous art.
“I hope that we get the federal government’s ear … [and] get some response from the federal government in a time of reconciliation,” he said.
“It’s really vital that we try to maintain our culture. It’s certainly one of the last things we now have left.”