Paul Daley, ‘The Guardian’, 17th October 2017
Albert Namatjira’s legacy as the foremost Indigenous painter of his generation has endured, despite the divided opinions of his contemporary critics.
His work has been acknowledged by British royalty, hung in the drawing rooms of the mega-rich and exhibited worldwide. His coveted, creviced landscapes of valleys, copses and bone-dry riverbeds, with their softened palettes of primary colours that defy caricature of the desert and its harsh light, sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the rare occasions they come under the auctioneer’s hammer.
The sidelines of associated merchandise – postcards, tea towels, biscuits tins, for example – are worth a fortune in themselves.
So it is shocking – perhaps astonishing to some – that Namatjira’s Arrernte family should, for several generations, have endured intense poverty because they did not own the copyright to his work. But it should not be at all surprising given the Commonwealth of Australia’s historic and ongoing treatment of its Indigenous people – even those it has regarded as appropriately assimilated or culturally “exceptional” by its own norms.
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