About the Collaborative
About the Collaborators
Article Full text
SCE Homepage
Contact Us!


Search our Site!




Australian Rugs

Cultural appropriation has become commonplace in western art. However, as western society becomes more aware of the rights of indigenous groups some work has been done to compensate certain indigenous groups. The aboriginal groups of Australia have sought compensation for illegal use of their traditional designs with a fair degree of success. Winning victories in one case involving traditional "dream poles" (Yumbulul v. Reserve Bank of Australia), and another involving Aboriginal design being used on rugs imported by a non-Aboriginal man( Milpurrurru v. Indofurn Pty. Ltd.) the indigenous groups have brought public attention to their plight. The legal case involving rug design is indicative of some of the problems still in existence with the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples.

Tim Payunka, Kangaroo and Shield People Dreaming at Lake McKay

Offending rug design, Indofurn Pty. Ltd. Kangaroo and Shield People

As the rug case was tried it became clear that the idea of monetary compensation was not enough for the Aboriginal people infringed upon.

One artist, Banduk Marika is quoted as saying, "It is nice to receive a bit of compensation, or whatever, but there is a backbone of culture here and only the aboriginal person knows the backbone." The artists in this case were able to stop inappropriate use of traditional design. More importantly the artists were able to demonstrate to the court that appropriation was harmful to them culturally and could have consequences beyond monetary damage. The court briefing states:

The reproduction of paintings which depict dreaming stories and designs of cultural significance has been a matter of great concern to the Aboriginal community. Pirating of Aboriginal designs and paintings for commercial use without the consent of the artist or the traditional owners was common for a long time. The recognition of the sacred and religious significance of these paintings, and the restrictions which Aboriginal law and culture imposes on their reproduction is only now being understood by the white community.
Judge J. Von Doussa

As positive as this judgment was, Aboriginal designs are still being used to make rugs. The defendant no longer imports rugs of this nature, but a simple internet search reveals that manufacturers the world over are making rugs citing aboriginal design, but not specific artists. The works below illustrate designs listed under the heading "Aboriginal rugs."

It should be noted that many rug dealers also claim to be dealing authentic Aboriginal designs. These rug dealers make no such claim. This case gives some idea of the expansive and pervasive nature that many of these appropriations/ exploitations acquire. The judgments in this case advanced the cause of Aboriginal artists into the public sphere. Yet, indigenous intellectual property theft has not been completely eliminated.

[Return to Top]





. .  
Legal Information | © 2003 Case Western Reserve University | Contact the Department
This page last updated on: Friday, 20-Oct-2006 13:15:19 EDT