Artist Sandra White, Perth Western Australia
QUESTION: What was you top challenge?
Sandra White: Redefining myself as a person through my art.
QUESTION: Why is selling art important to you?
Sandra White: I suppose for me being a little bit older and nearing retirement years, I want to pursue things that I love doing, Similar to you, I’ve been in jobs that I just didn’t like, but it paid my bills. Now I’m in a position where I’ve just decided I’m never going to do anything that I don’t want to be doing for a living.
QUESTION: What steps have you taken?
Sandra White: I pursued and acquired my first studio warehouse.
Anne Rea: Nice. Congratulations!
QUESTION: What do you notice?
Sandra White: The universe works its magic and things happen when you’re putting it out there.
QUESTION: What do you think about the exploitation of Aboriginal artists?
Sandra White: I’m as the same as you Ann. I get really pissed off when I see Aboriginal artists or any indigenous artists that have been exploited, and I’m seeing that in my own culture.
QUESTION: What’s happening to Aboriginal artists?
Sandra White: The Aboriginal people are often live in remote locations and art dealers are going these remote locations and tricking them into signing agreements. There is actual a language barriers as well, so to many of these people it sounds good. The art dealer pays them a piddling amount of money. They take the art and then they sell it for thousands of dollars. It’s exploiting them as people.
QUESTION: How much Aboriginal art is fake?
Sandra White: Eighty percent of indigenous art marketed to tourist is inauthentic, so you can imagine that can really upset the indigenous community. They are angered by it because it feels like their culture is being violated.
QUESTION: What is carpet bagging?
Sandra White: Carpet bagging is the term used here in Australia where outsiders, in this case art dealers, are moving into an area and they’re taking advantage of a situation and in this case it’s indigenous artists. And the art dealers are preying on high profile artists and they are forced to work under misleading circumstances. So they’re making them sign contracts that they don’t understand. Trickery is involved. Because then the art dealers pay for their materials. They pay for their food and accommodations and then they send the bill back to the artists. It’s insulting. It’s insulting to the indigenous people of this country.
QUESTION: How much money are art dealers making?
Sandra White: Art dealers are well known to go to these remote community to pay $150, I’m just giving an example, and then go off and display it in their galleries and it sells between $2000 and $10,000, because the work is made from the raw materials of that remote area, that makes it very valuable. It angers me. It pisses my off.
QUESTION: You don’t need a representative to sell your art.
Ann Rea: This is why we have to take our power back. This is why we have to sell directly. This is why we have to eliminate the gatekeepers. Eliminate thieves. I’m not saying all dealers are unethical, but so many of you are damn well thieves and you’ve stolen from me you’ve stolen from my students. You’ve screwed over my students and now there’s this whole very vulnerable population you’re taking advantage of them and there is a special place in hell waiting for you. You’ve got dirty money on your hands and it all comes back to people threefold. You do harm to others it comes back to you three fold. So, that’s something to consider. It does come back. It comes back in spades.
QUESTION: What’s being done?
Sandra White: People are fighting back. And they do have good advocates who are speaking out for them. What’s happening at the moment is there’s an actual federal senate inquiry that is happening from Darwin in the Northern Territory looking into the exploitation of indigenous artists. So there’s been calls to strengthen the Indigenous Arts Code to ensure that trading is fair and ethical.
QUESTION: What needs to change?
Sandra White: There is a need for greater transparency, especially when signing agreements, the artist versus the dealers. Obviously there’s a language barrier, there’s financial literacy. So there needs to be clearer transparency and understanding the agreements.
QUESTION: How does this hurt Aboriginal artists?
Sandra White: You know they’ve had the people fight back and it is disheartening when you see your art that’s been duplicated and it’s all fake. I mean that would be devastating for any community of people. So they’re fighting back.
QUESTION: What has to change?
Sandra White: There needs to be better policing of this authentic indigenous art. And what is really good that is happening is that there’s good sustainable initiatives to keep artists safe at the moment to protect their rights and cultural preservation.
QUESTION: How were you able to help?
Sandra White: We commissioned the artists to produce artists to sell in Europe. And the curator, she was a wonderful woman and the Aboriginal artists had 100 percent trust in her, she was a strong advocate for the Aboriginal artists. She was kind of their liaison between understanding the agreement they were signing. She was able to communicate with them authentically on what they were signing. But what they needed to understand was that the art that they were making and what was going to be sold in Europe and they were going to receive 100 percent of the funds of their sales.
QUESTION: Why did you join this program?
Sandra White: I liked the way that you weren’t following the traditions of artists. And for me what was the shift was you basically threw it on it’s ass Ann. I absolutely loved that. I thought ‘I like this woman’. I’m going to do it. Because she’s making art and she’s making money. I was like, hell girl I’m going to come and join your program. There you go.
QUESTION: What did you think of my approach?
Sandra White: Yeah. You threw it on it’s ass Ann. You basically gave them the bird and said I made money out of this. It’s like, hell yeah, I’m going to do that too.
Ann Rea: That’s right. It was. It was like, ‘yeah, screw this shit’. I didn’t do it. Hell no. I’m done. I’m out! I fired them or fire them all the first year I was here. I was like, you’re fired. You’re fired. You’re fired. They were like, because they just think you should be so happy to be in there. I’m like, no, give me all my art back and give it to me now. If you don’t give it to me I coming to get it off the wall.
Sandra White: I know. I read that and I thought hell yeah that’s what I would do.
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- Ann Rea, Artist Mentor