Cairns Indigenous Art Fair evolves online


The theme of the 2020 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) is The Cultural Evolution. And this year, appropriately, the fair itself has evolved into a digital festival, 100% online. As always CIAF showcases the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists with strong cultural ties to Queensland. From 14-23 August, visitors to CIAF online can shop in a curated marketplace of vetted vendors, browse exhibitions, watch a fashion show and other performances, listen to talks and music, and much more.

As the pandemic continues, artistic director of CIAF Janina Harding agrees that we are coming to terms with the challenges of participating in events virtually, while also learning to make the most of the incredible access an online platform offers.

“CIAF is a highlight on the Cairns calendar, everybody sort of gravitates to the fair each year. And everyone looks forward to it, whether they are an artist or a community member,” Harding points out. “But a lot the artists don’t actually come to Cairns during CIAF, especially those living in remote communities. It’s too far, or too expensive to get here. They’ve heard about it, but they’ve never come. And this year people I’ve talked to have said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll get my grandkid or my son to teach me how to navigate the website.’ CIAF will become a family thing where people sit around and engage in it together.”

And as with any gathering, conversations will be a key element at CIAF. As Harding explains, “It’s a chance to hear people that we wouldn’t normally all hear; CIAF gives them a voice.” She cites the 18 August symposium on climate change, led by Brenda L Croft from the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra peoples, as a significant example. Harding notes that seasonal changes wrought by the climate crisis are something that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people have intimate knowledge of; knowledge they are keen to share. It’s an issue affecting us all, and, as Harding says, “It’s important to get climate change back on the agenda because it sort of slipped off with the pandemic.” But evolving in the face of change, including climate change and its devastating impact, is woven into the theme of the entire CIAF.

Harding herself tactfully declines nominating any highlights in the 2020 CIAF saying, “I can’t choose anything in particular. I think the whole thing is just amazing, and people have bent over backwards to produce work for this platform, whether they’re musicians or visual artists or cultural practitioners, they’ve all come to the fore.” But nevertheless, the exhibition she has co-curated with Hetti Perkins, Undercurrents, stands out in a program packed with highlights.

In Undercurrents, Harding and Perkins present works by 24 artists that address the arrival of James Cook from the perspective of the first peoples of Australia. Here, again, CIAF turns the spotlight on voices that aren’t always heard and showcases the tenacity and ingenuity of Indigenous people.

Visitors to the 2020 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair online can find the entire program on the CIAF website and participate in live events through the CIAF Facebook page. The program will launch on 14 August.

2020 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
14 August – 23 August

Preview Words by Tracey Clement