For many years selling fake Aboriginal artwork has been a booming trade in Australia, an issue that is not brought to light frequently enough. In an effort to support local communities and present real Aboriginal art to the public, the story of Koorie Connections Altair’s began.
Current owner 25-year old Daniel Peers has worked tirelessly to make the gallery what it is today for almost three years, its heart and soul being its history and family heritage.
“The gallery is a continuation of my parents gallery that they established in 1994, Julie and Les Peers called it Koorie Connections Altair’s. The meaning behind the name is to Connect Koories (indigenous people) for the first time as ‘Altair’ is the Aboriginal word for ‘beginning’ (where I am from the emu and eagle meet in the stars and this is called Altair the beginning of creation). They created their business on a model that they believed would create equal opportunity for indigenous artists to be selling their artwork without feeling as if they were getting ripped off, their artwork was being sold in a safe environment and that the message they are creating with their work was getting across the way they wanted. This is where I came up with Altair, my goal was to establish Altair as a centre of opportunity in the west that provides a world class facility for all Aboriginal community groups throughout Victoria to exhibit their art – painting, carvings, photography, pottery etc.” he explained.
“We are seeking artists from all walks of life to support by giving them a safe and friendly place to showcase their work for the world to see. That is where we are different. Our main purpose is to supply a safe, friendly, fair-trade Aboriginal owned and run art gallery for the community”.
For those who are new to the art scene, the difference between traditional and contemporary art can be confusing. Peers explores the difference between the two art forms based on his experience and culture.
“I think the difference between traditional and contemporary art is that a traditional artist is someone who is creating the stories they have been shown from community members (normally parents or aunties or uncles and grandparents) – the stories from their art are recreating them. It is showcasing the ancient history of the community they are from and the stories that their family is the keepers of. These are normally people from remote communities as they have grown up with their culture and stories are passed down so they know their history” he said.
“Contemporary artists use traditional symbols and markings in a new age form of art, they are using what they know and trying to create their own mark on the art world with a combination of both worlds. These artists you will normally find use a combination of designs from all over Australia, not just ones from their community but a mixture.
It can be very difficult for contemporary Aboriginal artists as most Australians get confused when they see something they are not used to seeing. Just because someone is Aboriginal and they are an artist doesn’t mean they have to paint what everyone thinks. They are an artist as well as being Aboriginal.”
The concept of a fair-trade gallery allows community members to feel their artwork is being displayed rightfully and respectfully. The importance of this concept is expressed further by Peers alongside his firm beliefs regarding the issue of fake sales.
“I believe that a fair-trade gallery is important because Aboriginal artists have been getting ripped off since the big art movement in the 1970’s when the western desert art kicked off.
Our communities are living in third world standards in some parts of the country but they create some of the best art in the world, last year alone the Aboriginal art industry created over $250 million for Australia economy.
By creating a fair-trade gallery and giving the artist a fair percentage of the sale we try to close that gap that non fair-trade galleries have created. There are around 20 privately owned Aboriginal art galleries in Victoria with there only being four owned by Aboriginal people – it is a very sad fact”.
The alarming increase in trade of fake Aboriginal art strips all aspects of culture and heritage from communities. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘The Arts Law Centre of Australia estimated that 80 percent of Indigenous souvenirs in Australian tourist shops were fakes’. That boomerang you bought from a souvenir shop because it looked ‘cool’? It was created by an industry of fakery.
“The booming trade of fake aboriginal art has been around for too long in my books” Peers said.
“I watched it effect the livelihoods of Aboriginal artists for many years now. I can remember growing up at my parents shop and watching every Saturday artists from Shepparton, Mildura, Echuca and Geelong would do the drive to Melbourne to come see my parents and sell their art – this was their weekly income. But slowly fake Aboriginal art shops copying these artists work were popping up around us and slowly my parents couldn’t buy as much. People were buying fake art because of the pricing even though they knew it was fake, this put these families out of business who needed to stop making their crafts and find new incomes.
I think the fines should become a lot stricter on these people, it will start creating jobs for indigenous people and teach culture to the young again”.
Altair Fine Art Gallery displays the artwork of many incredible Aboriginal artists from across the country allowing the space to maintain a constant creative energy for visitors.
“We have Kevin Williams, Gloria and Jeannie Rosemary Petyarre, Betty Mbitjana, Evelyn Pultara, Colleen Wallace Nungariand Damian and Yilpi Marks, Lily Kelly Napangardi to name a few. Most of these artists’ artworks are displayed in the National Art Gallery – Gloria Petyarre is the number one Aboriginal artist in the country”.
Peers believes the “gallery is important to non-Aboriginal people and Aboriginal people because of the educational background we give, we teach a lot about cultural awareness and help people understand about the different cultures the are Aboriginal people as we are not all the same”.
“We work with community groups or individuals and create an exhibition for them to help them get a foot in the door of the art world. We have been running this program for over a year now and have given over 170 new artists a chance to show their work for the first time. We also give all the money and proceeds back to the artists in giving them a chance to create more work.
So far we have raised over $270,000 for community groups and still growing today”.
If you would like to visit the amazing art space of Altair Fine Art Gallery, head down to Wyndham Harbour – you may even pick up a beautiful piece of art for your home. For further information visit Altair’s Facebook page or website.