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OPINION: Inauthentic art sales hurt Alaska Native artists

September 21st, 2013 | By AMY EISENBERG Print this article   Email this article  

I have been reporting the sale of inauthentic Alaska Native Art in Alaska by Caucasian men who have factories in Bali! Superb Balinese artists copy the culturally significant and sacred carvings, painting and sculptures of Alaska Native artists and often use exported mammoth ivory, which is permissible because it is an extinct species.

This hurts Alaska Native artists and communities who struggle to make ends meet and are trying desperately to transmit their intergenerational knowledge through their works of art. Their stories and teachings are depicted in their art. The copying is a great disservice to Balinese artists who have their own magnificent material culture. Balinese artists are very skilled in their own right but they severely lack an understanding of the deep cultural significance of Alaska Native art. I have approached Caucasian men selling fake Alaska Native art and have kindly asked them to be transparent by labeling where these copies are made so that the unsuspecting tourist will know that they are purchasing fake Alaska Native art.

One Anchorage man who was selling fake Alaska Native art in his Anchorage store actually called me a Communist for purchasing genuine Alaska Native art at the Alaska Native Medical Center! He resented that his tax dollars were used for this excellent health facility for Native peoples of America (however Hawaiians who are Native American citizens of the USA are excluded from using these services). The ill-tempered man further threatened to "kick my ass"!

Some Caucasian men selling fake Alaska Native Art in Palmer and other parts of Alaska said that genuine Alaska Native art is too expensive to sell and that there are not enough Alaska Native works of art to supply to tourists.

I have asked that the companies who sell fakes, to please consider purchasing Balinese cultural art for sale in the USA but the men responded that people want to buy Alaska Native art. "But these are not Alaska Native Art. They are copied in Bali," I responded.

I was told by another Caucasian man selling fake Alaska Native Art in his store in Talkeetna, Alaska that the art market is cutthroat. This disrespectful practice is unfortunately widespread in the USA.

If you encounter the sale of inauthentic Native American art and Alaska Native art, please report this to the American Indian Arts and Crafts Board:

U.S. Department of the Interior

Indian Arts and Crafts Board

1849 C Street, NW, MS 2528-MIB

Washington, D.C. 20240


Telephone: (888) ART-FAKE

Fax: (202) 208-5196

Director: Meridith Z. Stanton

Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board

This institution is currently investigating these abuses that exploit indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

We must support Alaska Native artists and Native American artists. Their works are a blessing and of a rich cultural heritage.

Amy Eisenberg, Ph.D. is an Associate Scholar.


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