“This type of exploitation of our treasured Aboriginal Artists is the reason why we established the National Aboriginal Design Agency. Aboriginal artists have the right to economically benefit from the international thirst for Aboriginal art and storytelling, particularly as it moves into the built environment and design. We have been working closely with Aboriginal intellectual property lawyer, Terri Janke on a best practice licensing model that would make the process of Aboriginal artists and hotel designers collaborating streamlined and fair. Give us a call Bibi Barba, we would love to represent you!” Alison Page, Aboriginal Interior Designer and Creative Director of the National Aboriginal Design Agency.
GUESTS at the Eclipse Hotel in Domaslaw, Poland, may be surprised to learn that its cutting-edge interior design is based on work by an Aboriginal artist.
They may be even more surprised to discover that Bibi Barba, the artist whose Desert Flowers series of paintings are copied in the hotel’s carpets, cafe tables and wall panels, did not give permission for her artwork to be used in this way.
She has not been paid by the interior designer Ewa Smuga or the hotel, which opened in June last year.
Smuga said she had ”redesigned” Barba’s paintings for her designs for the hotel. But Barba said she ”was just absolutely gutted” when she found pictures of the hotel on the internet featuring interiors that reproduced her Desert Flowers paintings.
Barba said she had informed the hotel and Smuga that she believed her copyright had been infringed and suggested a resolution involving an exhibition of her work at the hotel. The hotel did not respond.
Barba has sought legal advice and written to the World Intellectual Property Organisation about the alleged copyright infringement. She said she wanted financial compensation from the interior designer and hotel, and to also show that artists can fight for their rights.
But in an email to the Copyright Agency, which collects royalties on behalf of artists, Smuga denied plagiarising Barba’s work.
”My inspiration does not have regard to material benefits and I only wish [to] spread Australian culture among Europeans,” she said. ”I haven’t copied her work. I redesigned it so that it was an emotional reference to Australian art.”
Smuga said she had acknowledged Barba as the ”inspiration” for her designs and planned to promote her work in Poland. She also claimed Barba’s artwork was ”generally known” and available on the internet.
Desert Flowers is a series of six acrylics painted on silk created in 2009. The paintings were all sold to private collectors for $3000 to $5000.
Barba’s website has, in the past, referred to the Eclipse Hotel, but she said she had never given permission for her artwork to be used in its interiors. ”I guess the viewpoint she had was I’m in the desert in Australia,” Barba said. ”I’m not going to find out. I have no access to a computer.”
The chief executive of the Indigenous Art Code, John Oster, said the facts produced by Barba indicated there had been a breach of copyright. The executive director of the Arts Law Centre, Robyn Ayres, said the vital and important parts of the artworks had been reproduced by Smuga. ”In my opinion this constitutes an unlawful reproduction of the work under Australia copyright laws,” she said. ”If a court was to compare Bibi Barba’s paintings with the carpets in the Polish hotel, the striking similarity would be apparent.”
Ms Ayres said copyright laws applied to works available on the internet. Smuga’s acknowledgement of Barba was not a defence to using her artworks without permission.
In an email to Fairfax Media, Smuga said she had not breached any of Barba’s rights and denied the artist’s allegations. The Eclipse Hotel has not responded to questions sent by Fairfax Media.