In many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, art sales are the main source of income. Making sure you always buy ethically and authentically is not just about protecting your investment, it’s about respect for the world’s oldest living culture, ensuring the artists and those around them are paid fairly and securing a sustainable future for Australia’s Indigenous art industry.

Buyers can and should play a part in ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists get a fair go. When buying art, we urge you to buy what you love but make sure artists are treated ethically in the process.

Indigenous Art Code Chair, Stephanie Parkin, discusses the part consumers have to play in ensuring artists are treated fairly and ethically in this video.

Ask Questions

Whether you’re buying from an art centre, a gallery, a dealer, an auction or an art fair, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, ask more. Following are key questions every buyer should consider :

  1. Who is the artist?
  2. Where is the artist from?
  3. How was the artwork or product supplied to the gallery or shop for purchase? Find out if it is it on consignment, or does the seller own the artwork.
  4. How was the artist paid for their work?
  5. If it is a reproduction of an artist’s work, how are royalties or licensing fees paid to the artist? Is there a licensing agreement in place with the artist? A reproduction of an artist’s work might include homewares and textiles.
  6. How long has your gallery been around? If it’s suddenly appeared from nowhere, find out where were they before.
  7. Is your gallery a member of the Indigenous Art Code? If yes, you know it has agreed to follow the Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct.


Most dealers in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art have high ethical standards and a genuine sense of responsibility to  artists and their communities. Many are signatories to the Indigenous Art Code and display our logo at their premises and on marketing materials. We encourage all buyers to look for it whenever and wherever they buy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.

Regrettably, however, there are some people selling Aboriginal art (and fake Aboriginal art) who respect neither Indigenous cultures nor the wellbeing of the artists and their communities. This is why the Indigenous Art Code exists.


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In 2020, the Indigenous Art Code commissioned Noongar writer and arts advocate Claire G. Coleman to write an essay exploring the nuances of the Indigenous visual art market, looking at the various ways art travels from artist to consumer. The assumption being that Coleman would unpack this from the perspective of the artists who typically operate within the main supply chains in the market for Indigenous visual arts.

She however chose to cleverly ‘flip the script’ and instead craft seven vivid and thought- provoking narratives from the perspective of the consumer, usually a non-Indigenous buyer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.

Click to read Seven Stories About You by Claire G. Coleman

Buying from a gallery

Many different types and sizes of galleries sell Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, from small tourist shops to high-end city art dealers.

Irrespective of size, the following three questions can help you feel confident you are buying from an ethical gallery. Any reputable dealer will be happy to answer them:

1. Is your gallery a specialist in Aboriginal art?

1. Is your gallery a specialist in Aboriginal art?

One or two pieces in amongst other art or souvenirs can sometimes be a warning sign.

Bugai Whyoulter acyrlic on canvas.
Image Martumili Artists
2. How long has your gallery been around?

2. How long has your gallery been around?

If it’s suddenly appeared from nowhere, where were they before? And where will they be next week?

Spinifex Arts Project, Vivien Anderson Gallery.
Image: Vivien Anderson
3. Is your gallery a member of the Indigenous Art Code?

3. Is your gallery a member of the Indigenous Art Code?

If yes, you know it has signed the Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct.

Ethical galleries and dealers will also be willing and able to answer questions in any of the following areas:

  • About the artist – his or her other work, history and community.
  • About the art centre – where is it? How long has the gallery been working with them? Does this artist always work through this art centre?
  • How does the gallery source its art generally and how does it pay the artists?
  • How much of the sale price goes to the artist?

Artists have a right to know the ‘money story’ for their art and buyers can ask too. Most ethical dealers are open about their business models. Many get their work from art centres on ‘consignment’ and pay the art centres a fixed percentage when they sell it. Some dealers pay a fair price to artists up front; this price is a percentage of what they know the retail price of the work will be.

Some unscrupulous dealers pay artists a small amount for the work up front, often exploiting artists in a vulnerable position and then charge inflated retail prices for the work. While not illegal, the Indigenous Art Code does not consider this ethical practice as, in some instances, artists are not given honest information about the true market value of their work.

Use your instincts. If the gallery owner is evasive about an artwork’s provenance or their relationship with the artist, it may be a signal to walk away.

There are also some specific things to look out for that can be warning signs of unethical practices:

  • A collection of works unconnected by theme, region, language or culture.
  • Merchandise, such as bags, scarves, jewellery and artefacts, that is manufactured overseas and does not attribute an artist. A bone China cup manufactured overseas and licensed fairly to the artist is ethical. A bone China cup manufactured overseas which isn’t licensed by an Aboriginal artist is not. See Fake Art Harms Culture.
  • Will the gallery ‘do a deal’? Ethical galleries usually work on a fixed price model with a consistent percentage returned to the art centre and artist. Offers of a discount to close the sale can be a cause for concern.
  • Does the gallery try to prove the provenance of artworks using photos of artists holding the work, rather than official authentication certificates?

Buying Direct from an Artist

Bradley Kickett selling his paintings at Revealed Fremantle Art Centre.
Image: Gabrielle Sullivan

There are many Indigenous artists across Australia who sells their work directly. Some artists might sell their work on the street others have their own studios which you can visit and some will sell from their own websites. Don’t haggle with individual artists selling their work to you, be respectful and understand that this is their livelihood. An individual artist selling his or her own work is not a dealer so the obligations of dealers under the Code do not apply to individual artists.

A fact sheet on how to buy Aboriginal art ethically can be found at the ANKA web site. The fact sheet is available in 5 languages Click here for details

Download a checklist about what to look for when buying ethical Aboriginal art

You don’t have to be a dealer to support ethical art

Join IartC

While only commercial dealers can formally become signatories to the Code, individuals or organisations can show their support for ethical practices in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art by joining IartC.

Collectors, public galleries, arts patrons and socially-minded individuals can all help build a healthy, ethical and sustainable Aboriginal art industry. The more members we have, the stronger we are, the more we can achieve.

IartC members have the opportunity to participate in our Annual General Meetings and vote on major issues.