Art fairs and festivals are back in action


As we head into winter and emerge into spring, a number of major art fairs and festivals are upcoming across Australia, some of which are returning for the first time in several years. From increasingly influential regional events to city fairs with a global presence, here are seven art fairs and festivals with compelling programs to experience.

Ngwarle Untye, Cora Lynch Alukura Womens Business. Photo: Courtesy of NIAF.

Sydney: National Indigenous Art Fair
2—3 July

The return of the National Indigenous Art Fair marks an important (and much-missed) opportunity for some of Australia’s most remote art centres to showcase work to a Sydney audience, illustrating the immense diversity of art practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities. With the exhibition and events taking place in The Rocks at the cavernous Overseas Passenger Terminal, the first fair since 2019 will bring together 50 stallholders from art centres and the local social enterprise organisation Blak Markets. The two-day fair also features dance, music and weaving circles, and will happen over the weekend to commence and celebrate NAIDOC Week.

Teho Ropeyarn, Athumu Paypa Adthinhuunamu (my birth certificate), 2022, vinyl-cut print on paper, 350 x 720cm, series of 6 panels. Edition of 3 + 2AP. Assistants: Mr Graham Brady and Manjal Brady. Exhibited as part of the 23rd Biennale of Sydney – rīvus, 2022 at the National Art School (Sydney, Australia). Photo: Jacquie Manning. Courtesy of the artist and Onespace Gallery. Teho Ropeyarn is represented by Onespace Gallery (Brisbane).

Cairns: Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
6—10 July

Cairns Convention Centre will play host to the 13th Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), which this year has a theme of Masters of Country. The event will feature roughly 300 visual artists and 150 performers practicing across various art forms and platforms. Spanning five days, CIAF will incorporate a symposium, an art fair, the Big Sculpture Showcase (featuring 187 large-scale works) and a fashion performance, along with comedy, theatre, dance and more. The theme has been interpreted diversely by participating artists, and includes a focus on water preservation, sacred sites, climate change, plant and tree knowledge and cultural stories and traditions. Several awards, including the Premier’s Award for Excellence and Emerging Art Award, will also be presented.

Bob Gibson, Kaltukatjara NT. Photos courtesy of Tjarlirli Art Indigenous Corporation. Tjarlirli Art is showing at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair 2022.

Darwin: Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair 
5—7 August

Australia’s largest Indigenous visual art event returns to Darwin Convention Centre after two years as an online-only affair. Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) will showcase more than 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art centres and more than 2000 artists, with styles and mediums including canvas paintings, bark paintings, works on paper, sculpture and fibre. Some artists will be on hand to talk about their work with visitors, and workshops, performances and children’s events are also scheduled. DAAF is not the only event taking place at the Convention Centre that week, with Country to Couture, a First Nations fashion showcase, taking place on 2 August; and the National Indigenous Fashion Awards on 3 August.

Rodney Bell, Meremere. Image credit Tom Hoyle and Ian Hammond.

Darwin: Darwin Festival
4—21 August

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair is actually part of the much larger event, Darwin Festival, embracing a spectrum of wider artistic expression across 18 late-winter days, in venues across the city. Among the most fascinating shows is undoubtedly the multimedia theatre production Meremere, about the life of New Zealand dancer Rodney Bell. Another is the ambitious light show from Larrakia artist Jenna Lee. For three nights (August 29—31), Lee will illuminate the Darwin skies with 160 synchronised drones for her work balarr inyiny. There is also an extensive program of music of various kinds (Tropical Fuck Storm being one highlight) as well as cabaret, comedy, dance and family-focused activities.

2022 SALA Feature Artist – Mark Valenzuela, Once bitten, twice shy, ceramic, concrete, steel, corrugated iron, timber, found objects, 2020. Photo: Saul Steed. 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Monster Theatres, Art Gallery of South Australia.

South Australia: South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Festival
1—31 August

This month-long festival is a special celebration of South Australia’s diverse range of contemporary visual artists. SALA is held in venues across the state, from Adelaide CBD to Port Lincoln, and not just in galleries: art will appear in cafes, libraries, halls, shops, restaurants and even toilets. And the festival also has an online component. For every SALA festival, a South Australian artist is selected as the event’s Feature Artist, with this year’s being Adelaide-based interdisciplinary artist Mark Valenzuela—whose work looks at social and political themes based on his life in the Philippines and Australia. Another headlining artist is Julia Boros, who works primarily with site-specific installations and textiles. Boros has been selected as the SALA Artist in Residence with Arts in Health at Flinders Medical Centre. The festival also runs a series of awards, a schools education program, and open studios.

Works by 2019 Young Talent artist, Alice Oehr.

Melbourne: Affordable Art Fair
1—5 September

Galleries from across Australia will convene at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre for the city’s second iteration of the Affordable Art Fair, an international initiative originating in London in 1999. With no artworks priced above $10,000, the event’s mission is to ‘democratise’ the art world and make art ownership more accessible. Highlights of the fair include the Young Talent Exhibition, which showcases emerging local artists aged under 35, as well as painting demonstrations and a workshop facilitated by renowned watercolourist Phillip Edwards. Visitors can view and purchase inventive paintings in various forms, as well as sculpture and photography.

Gow Langsford stand at Sydney Contemporary, 2019. Photograph by Zan Wimberley.

Sydney: Sydney Contemporary
8—11 September

One of the key annual events on the Sydney art calendar, Sydney Contemporary remains as eclectic and inclusive as ever. Taking place at Carriageworks in Eveleigh, the fair will host more than 90 galleries and over 450 artists from across the nation. As well as the visual art and installations program, there is a strong performance line-up this year. Performance Contemporary, as the program is dubbed, will feature innovative works from Salote Tawale, WeiZen Ho, Rakini Devi and Alli Sebastian Wolf. There will also be a series of panel discussions as well as an intriguing initiative for children that centres around the work of Venezuelan-Australian artist Nadia Nadia Hernández.

Feature Words by Barnaby Smith