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First Nations artists are unrepresented in the art space, report finds

Brendan Foster -

There is a glaring underrepresentation of First Nations artists across galleries and museums in Australia according to a survey released by the National Association for the Visual Arts.

The 2022 Countless Report, which was released on Tuesday, captured more than 21,000 artists and arts workers across 450 institutions.

The report, which looks at gender representation in the contemporary visual art sector, included Aboriginal and Torres Strait representation for the first time.

The research, co-edited by Miranda Samuels and Shevaun Wright, looked at data from Aboriginal-owned art centres, beneficiaries of prizes, funding, collection acquisitions, biennales and triennials, and solo and group exhibitions across Australia.

The report's highlights include:

- First Nations representation ranged from 6.5 per cent in artist-run initiatives and 7 per cent in major museums, to 26 per cent in university art museums and state galleries.

- Across most gallery types, women and First Nations artists were underrepresented in solo exhibitions, as well as in-state gallery acquisitions, and commercial gallery representation– areas that are key indicators of career success and legitimation.

- Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists only, women significantly outnumber men in commercial gallery representation.

- Although there are moves toward First Nations consultation through advisory groups, First Nations persons are seldom represented on gallery boards or directorates across the sector.

The report found First Nations artists continued to be undervalued and that the arts sector is no exception to the biases observed in society at large.

"It's important that galleries are held accountable to their statements around diversity and inclusion, which is what our independent and self-published research aims to do," the report read.

"Our analysis seeks to interfere with mainstream cultural narratives informed by capitalist and colonial ideas of artistic value."

National Association for the Visual Arts executive director, Penelope Benton, said while the report "offers little cause for celebration" it was crucial to highlight three major solo exhibitions by First Nations women.

"The Light of Day at the Art Gallery of Western Australia Judy Watson: mudunama kundana wandaraba jarribirri at Queensland Art Gallery I Gallery of Modern Art and the major survey of Emily Kam Kngwarray which recently closed at the National Gallery of Australia," she said.

"These exhibitions signal a potential turnaround in representation.

"I eagerly anticipate the impact of this shift in the next gender count.' 'Some state-based collection policies limit the application of the Cultural Gifts Program (CGP) to artists already in their collection.

"This perpetuates historical biases and reinforces existing power structures."

Ms Benton said the inclusion of data on First Nations representation in the visual arts was a significant step forward.

"While these figures may appear low, they serve as a crucial baseline for future analysis," she said.

"Many galleries, often with limited resources, are making concerted efforts to improve practices and showcase the work of First Nations artists.

"However, there is a glaring gap in First Nations representation, not only in exhibitions but also in arts worker and leadership roles across the visual arts sector."

NAVA has called for urgent investment at all levels of government to address this disparity.

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