One of a kind art fair promotes Queensland's Indigenous arts and culture

Cairns Indigenous Art Fair plays a major role in growing opportunities for the state’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and introducing their work to the wider community.
One of a kind art fair promotes Queensland's Indigenous arts and culture

Bernard Singleton’s 2017 ‘Djanang’(standing) fashion collection. Photo by Tim Ashton courtesy of Cairns Indigenous Art Fair

Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) is a unique, three-day event providing an international platform for Queensland’s talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

‘It’s like an Indigenous version of the Sydney or Melbourne Art Fairs,’ said Artistic Director, Janina Harding, ‘and the calibre of the artists is just amazing – there are some really high profiles.’

Running from 13-15 July, CIAF 2018 is expected to attract more than 50,000 people. The result is an event which creates a lasting cultural connection between artists and the community, and provides local organisations with the opportunity to display artists’ work.


Learn more about Cairns Indigenous Art Fair

‘It’s always been my intention to give that option to the cultural institutions here in Cairns, such as the library and the preschool – but there’s the galleries, the Cairns Performing Arts Centre and Tanks Art Centre, which are all run by the Council. It’s important that we get to show in those places too,’ Harding said.

‘Whether you’re a visual artist or a performing artist, it’s always great to put our mark on this city here. I know our Mayor, Bob Manning, likes to say, “Cairns is the cultural capital of the far north,” and I think it is too.’

One of the most highly-anticipated events in CIAF’s annual program is a fashion show featuring the collections of Indigenous designers. Bulmba-barra – meaning ‘when bare feet touch the earth’ – has a new creative collective this year, after its original curator, Grace Lillian Lee, was unable to participate.

‘Rather than not have a show we thought we’d get some of the designers who have presented in Grace’s show in previous years to see if they would all come together, so they’ve formed a collective,’ Harding said.

Consequently, this year’s iteration of Bulmba-barra will be curated by cultural practitioner Bernard Singleton, artist and sustainable fashion designer Simone Arnol, and creative directors and choreographers Rita Pryce and Peggy Misi.

North by East West exhibition and CIAF Arts Awards

Another highlight of this year’s Art Fair will be the North by East West exhibition, featuring pearl shell carvings by Broome and Torres Strait Islander artists. 

‘Pearl shells are quite significant in culture in terms of ceremony and sorcery; they’re magic; they’re seen as magic implements or part of everyday life and ways where stories could be told before canvasses were introduced.’

Despite the distances which separate them, the pearl shell artists discovered surprising similarities in their traditions and countries when they met during a workshop, Harding said. 

‘Both on the Kimberly coast and right across the Strait, Aboriginal people did similar things with the pearl shell. You would tell a story or mark out on a pearl shell how to butcher a dugong or how to hunt a turtle, that kind of stuff; they wore them in dancing ceremonies right throughout history.’

Another important feature of the Fair is the annual CIAF Art Awards, which support the professional development of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists by encouraging the pursuit of innovation and excellence.

This year the prize pool has expanded to $50,000, with the addition of a new $5000 prize.

‘We have a new category this year to recognise the powerful medium of photography,’ Harding said of the expanded prize pool.

The entry process is one that should also appeal to artists. ‘Everyone who is part of the Art Fair will automatically have a chance to win the prizes, unless it’s part of a commission,’ Harding said.

The growth of the prize pool at CIAF is indicative of the event’s evolving status and significance on the Australian cultural calendar. 

‘We’re living in exciting times now, especially in terms of the art that comes out of far north Queensland – it’s an amazing time to be part of this movement,’ Harding concluded.

The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair runs from 13-15 July 2018. Visit for full program details.