Ochre Dawn Fact Sheet
Protocols for working with Indigenous artists
How can you respect the rights of Indigenous people to own and control their culture – including designs, stories and other cultural expressions?
a. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the original inhabitants of Australia. Indigenous worldviews, lifestyles and customary laws should be respected.
b. Recognise and respect the cultural significance of Indigenous visual art.
c. Indigenous artists come from a diversity of backgrounds. Acknowledge and encourage the diversity of Indigenous creative expression.
d. Indigenous cultures are living and evolving cultures. Avoid inappropriate or outdated language and ideas when interacting with cultural groups.
e. Acknowledge local Indigenous groups where projects are located.
Indigenous people have the right to self-determination in their cultural affairs and to decide how their cultural property is used. It is always important to discuss how Indigenous control over a project can be achieved.
- Involve Indigenous people, including artists and communities, at all stages of a project.
- Respect that Indigenous people have the right to own and control all cultural expressions – including Indigenous body painting, images, motifs and stories.
- If a project involves the use of Indigenous cultural material, you must:
- Consult widely with Indigenous artists and organisations about which people in the community have authority to speak for specific Indigenous cultural material.
- Get proper consent for the use of cultural material from the Indigenous people who may give clearances.
Communication, consultation and consent
Indigenous people should be consulted on the use and representation of their cultural heritage. Consider the following:
- Communication with Indigenous communities can help to build awareness and challenge misunderstandings
- Consultation with a community is not simply a formality – the perspective of the community should determine the appropriate course of action.
- Prior to use of cultural material, Indigenous people should be informed about the implications of consent. Give Indigenous people enough time and information to consider requests made of them.
- Consent and consultation processes will differ for each community.
- Consultation is an ongoing process. The protocols within each community will change as the culture evolves. You must be prepared to consult, at a later date, for any uses of the work that were not originally envisaged.
Indigenous artists are professionals and should be properly remunerated for their work.
- Ensure Indigenous artists receive proper returns for their contribution and use of their cultural material.
- Fees should be paid at an appropriate industry rate.
- Do not ask Indigenous artists for a ‘free pitch’, that is, an unpaid submission of artwork. Indigenous artists make a living from selling their works and these benefits flow back to Indigenous communities. Instead, establish an open and professional client-artist relationship and communicate with the artist about what your commission objectives are.
- Pay proper licence fees when reproducing an artist’s work.
- Discuss copyright ownership of the work upfront.
In addition to any moral rights for individual creators, Indigenous communities should also be recognised for the use of their cultural heritage in artworks.
- Attribute relevant Indigenous language groups or communities for the use of their cultural heritage in artworks.
- Ask for the correct wording of how the artist or community would like to be attributed with ownership of the work or the cultural heritage within it.
- Acknowledge Indigenous people as the owners of their knowledge and information.
Interpretation, integrity and authenticity
Indigenous artists should retain control over how their cultural heritage is presented. This includes upholding Indigenous artists as the principal interpreters of their heritage and consulting artists about the presentation of their work.
- Give the Indigenous artist the opportunity to interpret and present their own cultural heritage. Allow Indigenous perspectives to enhance the interpretation of the work.
- When displaying Indigenous artwork, promote the cultural values of the work as well as the Indigenous artists and the community
- Respect the integrity of an Indigenous artwork. When reproducing Indigenous works, do not materially alter an artwork without consultation with the artist who must give their consent.
- Make enquiries into whether an Indigenous person produced the artwork, or whether the Indigenous artist adhered to customary law in the process of creating the work
- Consider the cultural implications of an exhibition or in marketing of Indigenous artworks. Ensure that the artist is fully informed about the use of their work, including reproduction of the work and the use of biographical material.
Secrecy and confidentiality
Some Indigenous cultural material is restricted from being widely distributed because of its confidential nature. ‘Secret and sacred’ refers to information or material that can only be known or used by a particular group of people, for a particular purpose, or at a particular time.
- Many Indigenous communities have restrictions around how to refer to a deceased Indigenous person, particularly whether their name or photograph can be made public. Be mindful of when you may need to address these protocols.
- It may be a transgression of Indigenous customary law to reproduce certain secret or sacred images. Discuss any restrictions with the Indigenous artist and their community.
By following these protocols, you may interact with Indigenous artists respectfully and ensure that Indigenous cultural knowledge and expression is responsibly used and protected for future generations.
For more information, see Australia Council for the Arts ‘Protocols for producing Indigenous Australia visual arts’ and other guides at