APY Lands artists push for Alice Springs studio for protection from 'carpetbaggers'

Senior artists from South Australia's APY Lands want to set up a permanent art centre in Alice Springs to protect people from being exploited by unscrupulous dealers known as carpetbaggers.

Nyurpaya Kaika
Nyurpaya Kaika says people get "stuck" in Alice Springs and are being underpaid for their artwork.
(ABC News)

Natalie Whiting ABC News 5 October 2015

Senior artists from South Australia's APY Lands want to set up a permanent art centre in Alice Springs to protect people from being exploited by unscrupulous dealers known as carpetbaggers.

Some of the country's best artists come from small remote Aboriginal communities in the APY Lands but if they have to travel to Alice Springs for healthcare or other reasons, they do not have anywhere to work.

Prominent artist Nyurpaya Kaika is one of the directors of Tjala Arts in the community of Amata.

She said people often found themselves at the mercy of art buyers, dealers and agents and were underpaid.

"We've been watching over the years how so many of our people are getting stuck in Alice Springs, particularly those who are now on dialysis regime that can't leave; their families comes in and join them and they're stuck there for years and years," Kaika said.

"Also, there's a lot of people that are in Alice Springs for other reasons — generally health related.

"They're kind of stuck there and because they're there and we do worry about them and worry about their opportunities."

She said some people stranded in Alice Springs find themselves left vulnerable to unscrupulous art buyers, agents and dealers known as carpetbaggers.

Carpetbaggers was a phrase used for northerners after the US civil war who moved to the south to exploit the social and political unrest.

"Sometimes some people might go from the APY Lands into Alice Springs and then for many reasons their money just doesn't last," Kaika said.

"They've got no money and they know that they're a good artist and they can paint and earn really good money from a painting, but they don't know where to go and that's when they, we have seen them being exploited by carpetbaggers.

"The people's works just go and they get hooked into the sort of set up, but they get paid very, very little."

Tjala Arts in Amata
Tjala Arts runs a corporation that sells artwork on behalf of the Amata community.
(ABC News)

She said a permanent Alice Springs studio would give people somewhere to go to paint and sell their works.

"The works that they're painting are full of big djugurba," she said.

"They're full of important cultural stories, and it's really a horrible feeling for us to know that we're being exploited and sort of being forced into accepting that situation.

"This is one way they can earn money to keep themselves afloat there, that's run hopefully by Anangu, for Anangu."

Carpetbaggers were identified as a serious threat to the Indigenous art market in a Senate inquiry in 2007.

It acknowledged that the artists' circumstances played a big role in the situation.

Setting up an art centre has the backing of the NPY Women's Council, a prominent Aboriginal corporation in central Australia.

Coordinator Andrea Mason said carpetbagging remained a big worry.

"There are those that are unconscionable in their conduct in taking Aboriginal artists to do work, not under the art code, the Indigenous art code, but under an absolute separate system outside of that, because under the Indigenous art code, the profits do go back to the art centre and to those artists and, therefore to the local community," Ms Mason said.

She hoped the centre could get up and running by early next year.

"We look forward to continue talking to those art centres and the senior artists from the APY Lands, because we've got a base in town, there are other organisations there," she said.

"We want strong art centres in the APY Lands and we want people not to be made vulnerable if they do come into Alice Springs."