When you visit rural areas where the locals produce artistic goods (paintings, sculptures, etc) you may have wondered, “How could these amazing artists still live with minimum wage? Their works are worth so much and they make so many products everyday.”
You can say so because perhaps you live in the city and visit galleries or art festivals regularly. Yet, there’s a long and complicated process to have original artworks from local artist to be displayed in fancy galleries or art stores; and it’s not merely about the transportation or shipment.
The more hands involved, the higher the price becomes. For consumers, artwork seems to be high priced, while retailers bought the goods at such a low price. It may seem very normal, considering the transport cost and other services provided. However, sometimes retailers would end up getting more revenue from the selling price than the sum local artisans get for their art from the retailers. So, is it fair for the local artisans to get less revenue than the retailers?
More often than not, these artists live in remote areas and isolated communities with difficulties to access greater market. This is where art retailers manifest greatly from indigenous artists. The remote areas are short of tourists, so the artists have to sell their works to the most potential buyer which in this case is the retailer.
Unfortunately, no matter how many artworks the retailers buy, these artists are still underpaid for the retailers take up so much commission from the profit. Furthermore, these artists have to buy more supplies for their next artworks with whatever profit they got from the retailers. In the end, they don’t receive the reasonable profit they deserve, whilst retailers could profit multiple times the sum these artists got.
A famous tourist island of Bali, Indonesia, has had its local artists exploited for years. Perhaps since the island started pouring with tourists, both domestic and international. Art is in the heart and soul of Balinese people and their satisfaction is often not based on material rewards. Such philosophy has been exploited by businessmen or art dealers over the years. There has never been a huge blow up about this, but the problem emerges only through personal conversations and observations. Fortunately, nowadays the injustice is brought up through brands, organisations and communities who are up against such unethical trade by collaborating with Balinese artisans towards a healthier business.
Art Fair Trades in Southeast Asia
Supposedly, artists should receive more profit than retailers as they are the creators and retailers are only agents. This is why more and more local communities are teaming up to help sustain local artists’ lives. One of their ways to provide a more ethical business is through fair trades in the form of joining cultural festivals, art expo or as independent platforms.
Fair trades are important especially for developing Southeast Asian countries that still have rural areas and indigenous societies with artistic potentials for it could help to protect these artists’ general livelihood. In the long run, fair trades in the art industry can build and maintain a sustainable economic development for the currently disadvantaged local artisans.
In Thailand, for example, an independent fair trade business called GrassRoots is partnering with indigenous artisans across the world and help channeling their products to global consumers. One of the indigenous people they partner with is the Akha people who live throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Eastern China. They also partnered up with existing organisations (both registered and non-registered) which helps local artists from their country or area to have respectable income and greater access.
In a larger scale, both national or international-level fair trades are emerging in many countries throughout Southeast Asia. One of them is the annual trade focusing on Indonesian handicrafts, The Jakarta International Handicraft Trade Fair (INACRAFT). This fair trade was initially started by an established Association of Exporters and Producers of Indonesian Handicraft (ASEPHI). Exclusive handicrafts across the archipelago can be found in this fair as it is the largest and prestigious handicraft exhibition in Indonesia.