My art ended up on a hotel carpet without my permission

By Native Affairs

Imagine painting an art piece which was a representation of one of the hardest times in your life– only to have the designs end up on the carpet of a Polish hotel.

Aboriginal artist Bibi Barba was shocked when she discovered the similarities between her painting, Desert Flower, to the décor of a Polish hotel.

“Desert Flower became an art piece pretty much about 10 years ago, that was pretty much a pivotal point in my life when my marriage ended.  I was a flower going through a desert of emotions and the yellow represented a day of a new dawn”.

To show the world her life in art, Barba created her own website.

In 2013, she started googling herself, to see what came up.  What she found stunned her.  Desert flower was being used on the interior at a Polish hotel.  The Hotel Eclipse is located 360 kilometres south of Poland's capital of Warsaw.

“My heart sunk, I felt so sick to my stomach, I couldn't believe that something that I painted [which was] so beautiful to me was used in such a commercial way, and disrespectful to culture, disrespectful to me as an artist”.

It's believed the hotel's interior designer saw Barba's art on a website and downloaded the high-resolution picture.

It was then used to design the carpets in 44 rooms within the hotel and the image was also used on walls, soap dishes, chairs, and bar tops.

Robyn Ayres is the CEO at Arts Law, a national community legal centre for the arts.  She said the hotel has broken Australian copyright laws.

“Nearly every country around the world has copyright laws, and what those copyright laws do is they give an artist who is generally the owner of the copyright, the right to decide how the work is used.  So if they want their work to be reproduced they have to go to the artists and ask for permission, and the artists can say yes or say no,“ she says.

Barba wasn't contacted by the hotel for her permission of Desert Flower to be used.

“But she obviously thought that I lived in the outback underneath the gum tree, with no technology.  Sorry, I don't live far from the prime minister of Australia, so I’m going to find out”. 

Native Affairs reached out to Hotel Eclipse for a comment- they didn't get back to us.

Almost five years later and Barba is still fighting to reclaim her art.  She encourages all indigenous artists to protect their work in order to preserve their culture.

“We have to take ownership now...this is about your culture, this is about your work."