Celebrating its 15th anniversary in July, the hugely successful Cairns Indigenous Art Fair has gained more attendees and participants each year and will again showcase outstanding artworks and performances by Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Tickets are available now for the July 25-28 art fair, with hundreds of First Nations artists including fashion designers and musicians participating.

They come from as far afield as the Torres Strait, Cape York and Gulf communities right down to the south-east corner of the state and out to western communities. More than 300 artworks are anticipated to be included in the art fair, to be staged at the Cairns Convention Centre.

CIAF artistic director Francoise Lane, a Kaurareg and Meriam woman from the Torres Strait Islands, talks about the meaning of this year’s theme, Country Speaking.

“Country in an Indigenous sense represents the people, the custodians with that long connection to their Country lands,” Lane says. “It’s about the ancient and living songlines that speak to the forming of Country, and about the ancestors of that forming and how they relate to the people of that Country. It’s also about the kin – the creatures – and the relationship with the waterways.”

Lane emphasises that the connection to Country allows it to speak to those who care for it, saying, “It can be something gentle like the changing wind or the currents … for example, that could mean that the crocodiles are going to come around in a new season”.

“Country can also scream loudly that it’s not being cared for. For example, rising waters on low-set islands … or raging fires that burn everything in their path,” Lane says. “Now more than ever, it’s time to look at how First Nations people of this country cared for it, and take them as an example.”

The theme Country Speaking will also be evident in the Light the Fire Fashion performance – a dance through Indigenous fashion. The thread of renewal from land management’s traditional fire burning practices will be celebrated in the fashion designs and performance.

“Collections from 12 First Nations designers will be showcased, with the theme also speaking to evoking the fire within us that is lit when we’re expressing our culture,” Lane says. “One of the ways that it’s expressed is through the canvas of the body and clothing and design.”

Clothing from some of the collections will also be for sale.

Satellite exhibition Not Selling Cakes will also celebrate the art fair’s 15th anniversary. The intriguing title references a landmark 2006 report to the Queensland Government, by the late artist Billy Messi, investigating issues affecting the sustainability of Indigenous art centres in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait.

Messi’s report became a key factor that led to the launch of CIAF in 2009. In recognition of this, 15 arts professionals have provided input into the development of the Not Selling Cakes exhibition.

Another art fair highlight will be a two-day symposium and think tank, Country Speaking: Towards Ancestral Future. Academic Dr Jilda Andrews, a Yuwaalaraay cultural practitioner and museum ethnographer in Canberra, will contribute, along with Dr Danièle Hromek, a Saltwater woman of Budawang/Dhurga/Yuin and Burrier/Dharawal ancestry, with French and Czech heritage. She’s the first Indigenous person in Australia to achieve a PhD in spatial disciplines.

Music isn’t left out of the fair. Alongside traditional dancers and musicians, on July 27 popular First Nations hip-hop rapper BARKAA and singer Simone Stacey will perform No Shame in My Game.

It’s all part of a huge offering over four days for an event that attracted 50,000 visits last year (with 30,000 individual visitors). More than 600 artists, performers and visual artists took part, with the Cairns economy benefitting $4 million from intrastate visitors and more than $3 million from interstate visitors. Many people head to Cairns for the art fair, combining cultural tourism with enjoying the natural beauty of the area through usual tourist activities.

Lane sums it up: “What is being celebrated is the continuing, living Far North arts and culture of Queensland. My aim is that people walk away (saying), ‘Oh my goodness, I’m just so proud of how deep our culture goes in Australia’.”


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