Cairns hosts Queensland’s biggest ever celebration of First Nations arts and culture

Cairns-Indigenous-Art-FairThe 14th edition of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) wrapped on Sunday afternoon with cultural dance displays and a last-minute rush of art sales following a stunning four-day festival celebrating the dynamic arts and culture movement of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Taking a cue from the 2023 theme, Weaving our Future: Claiming our Sovereignty, CIAF’s multi-arts program, replete with art exhibitions, cultural dance, a decade-anniversary fashion performance, a two-day symposium, masterclasses, workshops, a music festival and more, people came from near and far to the event’s biggest cultural immersion to date.

Rounding out CIAF’s $60,000 awards cache during Sunday’s closing ceremony was the announcement that Torres Strait Islander artist, Toby Cedar had won the 3-D Installation and Sculpture Award sponsored by Ports North ($5,000), Pormpuraaw artist Mylene Holroyd had won Apunipima’s Emerging Artist (Acquisitive) Award ($5,000) with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artist Douglas Tamwoy winning the Torres Strait Regional Authority’s People’s Choice Award ($5,000).

These winners add to the honour roll of three major awards announced at the opening event on Thursday 13 July; Elder and artist Janet Koongotema secured the Premier’s Award for Excellence ($25,000), Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre won Cairns Regional Council’s Art Centre Award ($10,000) and Holding Redlich’s Innovation Award ($10,000) went to independent Sunshine Coast based artist, Darren Blackman.

Among the 50-plus events in CIAF’s program, there were many highlights including two sell-out fashion performances of Woven at Tanks Art Centre showcasing 14 designer collections and 17 models, three fully subscribed Masterclasses, as well as strong attendances across the weekend at satellite exhibition openings while Opening Night, the Symposium, and Music in the Park also boasted impressive sales.

Presenting a fashion collection at CIAF for the second year running, artist and designer, Quandamooka artist, Delvene Cockatoo-Collins said Friday’s performance was “the perfect way” to bring together her generational family story of art and culture in a collection of garments featuring hand-woven adornments and prints interweaving her great grandmother’s woven basket to her grandmother’s written words and her mother’s mat making.

Likewise, it was a similar story at CIAF’s event headquarters and hub, the Cairns Convention Centre with the Art Fair and Art Market and free activities and workshops all generating strong crowds and interest in the 500-plus works of art (Art Fair), many of which were acquired by collectors and institutions from across Australia and overseas.

There was also a strong fascination with the Coconut Leaf Project comprising seven large-scale installations hand woven by six master weavers from across the Torres Strait Islands who converged in Cairns to revive and celebrate what is considered a significant but dying art.

Across the 14 art centres and nine independent galleries and artists in the Art Fair plus 60 market stalls, notable sales were reported across the event including the acquisition of Cairns artist Susan Rey’s hand-painted piano by QPAC, Brisbane, the Sydney Powerhouse Museum’s acquisition of Townsville artist Gail Mabo’s mixed media wall installations and purchase of Toby Cedar’s Nar (canoe) by Cairns Airport for display at the international terminal.

According to CIAF Artistic Director Francoise Lane, from start to finish, CIAF 2023 proved there is an increasingly strong appetite for immersive First Nations arts and culture experiences and an intent by visitors to learn from and engage with artists.

“I feel completely humbled to have worked with the team and so many wonderful artists and practitioners to deliver my first CIAF in the role of Artistic Director,” said Ms Lane.

“I am proud that together we lifted artistic and public programming to a new and unprecedented level and while capturing the attention and imaginations of visitors, we have provided a truly authentic and meaningful experience.”

“CIAF is such a powerful platform for storytelling, truth-telling, knowledge sharing and an inclusive meeting place for cultural exchange of two very distinct and diverse cultures – past, present, and future,” said Ms Lane.

The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) took place: 13 – 16 July 2023. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (supplied)