Ohhhhh NAIDOC week! Good to see you again! What a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and share Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture! Or have it exploited by corporate greed in multinational, multi billion dollar corporations like Qantas.
Day two of NAIDOC, day two of white fuckery. (Aaaaaaaand cue the white fragility screaming reverse racism! I’ll give you this for free: reverse racism is not a thing.)
On Tuesday, Qantas rang me and asked me to come and paint some crockery left over from the Business Class and First Class cabins – they wanted me to paint “totems” and the corrosponding “Aboriginal word” in line with the theme of Our Languages Matter (but apparently Qantas wants to celebrate our languages by homogenising them, erasing the languages of individual language groups).
I was somewhat embarrassed because she was so excited about this… project. Also, she clearly hadn’t looked at my work because I rarely paint animals; that’s just not my style. Instead she thought I was a generic Aboriginal Artist. A generic Aboriginal Artist who could paint generic Aboriginal Art and then paint generic “Aboriginal Words”. All in the middle of the Qantas Club Lounge where the largely white corporate passengers could dictate what “totems” and animals I paint. Awkward.
The best bit? They want me to work for free. Oh but there might be some “exposure” or other “incentives”. I politely declined and told her that it was exceptionally disrespectful to ask an Aboriginal Artist to come to them, during NAIDOC, to share their time, skills and culture and not remunerate them. I expressed my profound dismay that a multi-national corporation would not make room in their budget for corporate responsibility; particularly given that Qantas certainly like to appear to celebrate Aboriginal culture with their uniforms, decor, Indigenous traineeships and so forth.
Then she apologised and said she didn’t realise that I was an established artist. Even if I were an brand new emerging artist, I would still deserve to be paid for my work. Whilst I appreciate that to them, their intent is good – the reality is that Qantas are seeking to exploit an Aboriginal Artist to make themselves look culturally aware. Sit with that for a moment.
I do a lot of charity work. I often donate my time and skills to local schools and other causes. I have 2 pieces in a charity exhibition this week. But I’m not prepared to give my time and skills and share my culture for a poorly thought out project by a billion-dollar corporation.
I got a middle management apology and an assurance that the staff involved would receive some education in cultural competence.
So no, I won’t be painting plates for Qantas for free this week. Happy NAIDOC!