Artist’s shock shared at RAP launch

Artist Bibi Barba
Bibi Barba with her artwork, (Blanket of Security) Dreaming, which reflects her experience of finding her artwork used by an interior designer of a Polish hotel without her permission. © Bibi Barba/Licensed by Viscopy, 2015.

Bibi Barba’s paintings are deeply personal. So when she discovered her artwork, Desert Flowers, was being used all over carpets, coffee tables and wall panels in a Polish hotel without her permission, she decided to embark on the legal fight of her life.

Inspired by her grandmother, Bibi’s artwork has, over time, developed into her own unique style; melding the traditional with the more contemporary. Like many artists, her work tells a story. It’s about her connection to family, to the land, where she was born, her struggles and her triumphs. For those who appreciate her work and want to reuse it, Bibi expects to be fairly paid.

Desert Flowers is a series of six paintings she created in 2009, which were all sold to private collectors for $3000 to $5000. But the interior designer that used her paintings at the Hotel Eclipse in Domaslaw, Poland, has not paid Bibi for the use of her work, arguing that she’d “redesigned” Barba’s paintings and only used her work as inspiration.

Bibi wrote to the hotel, saying she believed her copyright has been infringed. She suggested as reparation the hotel could offer to hold an exhibition of her work. The hotel is yet to respond.

“I think [the interior designer] thought I’d never find out and they would just get away with it…that I’d be living in the middle of the desert somewhere without access to the internet,” she said.

Bibi said she was “gutted” when she found pictures online of the interior of the hotel.

“I knew I had to do something. Without the support of the team at the Copyright Agency and Viscopy, I wouldn’t know who to turn to, where to start,” she said.

“Part of this is about getting back what I think is fair but I also want to show that artists can stand up and fight for their rights.”

Bibi created a painting, commissioned by the Copyright Agency | Viscopy, about her experience with Desert Flowers and The Eclipse Hotel. The new artwork, (Blanket of Security) Dreaming is painted with acrylic paints on a rare silk canvas.

“As your art travels, it touches and influences more people. This artwork is about that connection with your audience, but having those layers of protection at the centre and throughout each part of that interaction.

“It’s also about the strength you receive from support around you, especially when you challenge yourself and go into things unknown,” she said.

Bibi revealed the artwork at a launch event of Copyright Agency | Viscopy’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) during Reconciliation Week last month. The launch was opened by Uncle Chicka, a Gadigal Elder from Redfern and featured talks by Aboriginal artist-designer and Copyright Agency Board Member, Bronwyn Bancroft and Viscopy Board Member Marcus Clark.

Chief Executive Murray St Leger said Bibi’s moving story will help raise awareness about artists’ rights, and that the company’s Reconciliation Action Plan would “help us to make real and tangible progress to ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians”.

“As we work with so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and writers, having a Reconciliation Action plan is crucial for both providing culturally appropriate services to our members and promoting our members’ work to the wider community,” he said.

The plan meets best practice standards and was developed with input from the Copyright Agency | Viscopy’s Aboriginal Board Directors, in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. It has been endorsed by Reconciliation Australia.

Viscopy has more than 5000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artist members.

Bibi will continue fighting for compensation from the interior designer and the hotel through the courts over the next few months.