Cairns Indigenous Art Fair celebrates 15 years with milestone program

CIAF Francoise LaneThe Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) will celebrate an extraordinary journey of evolution and growth when the event’s 15th anniversary is staged at venues across the city this July, featuring hundreds of First Nations artists, performers, fashion designers, and creatives.

A small but esteemed group of First Nations artists whose careers have been catapulted throughout Cairns Indigenous Art Fair’s 15-year history were special guests at this week’s launch of its anniversary program.

CIAF’s artistic director, Francoise Lane, said CIAF’s anniversary season is a testament to Queensland’s thriving First Nations arts and culture industry and its place on the world stage.

“From its humble beginnings as an Art Fair, CIAF has evolved into a multifaceted celebration of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts, culture, and fashion, featuring artists, performers, and creatives from the Torres Strait, Cape York, and Gulf communities in the north out to western communities and down to the southeast corner,” said Ms Lane.

Over four action-packed days from Thursday 25 July, CIAF is destined to attract a colourful convergence of more than 30,000 individual visitors, community, artists, collectors, and industry practitioners who will inject a vibrant and inclusive First Nations vibe into the tropical city of Cairns.

Comprising more than 20 free and ticketed events, CIAF’s program highlights include the Opening Night Party, Art Fair, Art Market and public program of workshops, ghost net weaving, printmaking, digital drawing masterclasses and children’s activities presented within the comfortable and spacious surroundings of the world-class, Cairns Convention Centre hub.

Added to these, several key events and exhibitions will also be enjoyed from venues within the city’s cultural scape, including NorthSite Contemporary Arts at Bulmba-ja Arts Centre, Cairns Art Gallery, neighbouring Court House Gallery, and the atmospheric repurposed World War 11 oil tanks of Tanks Arts Centre in Edge Hill’s botanical precinct.

While CIAF’s event program is predominantly free and for all ages to enjoy, ticketed events (due for release in the coming weeks) include program favourites: Opening Night Party at Cairns Convention Centre, the two-day Symposium and cultural think tank at Bulmba-ja Arts Centre, highly anticipated Light the Fire fashion performances at Tanks Arts Centre, as well as live music performance, No Shame in My Game from Australia’s hottest First Nations rapper and musician, Barkaa and Simone Stacey presented by CIAF in partnership with WOW Australia, also at Tanks Arts Centre.

For its 15th year, CIAF’s signature Art Fair exhibition takes its cue from the 2024 theme, Country Speaking, destined to weave a rich thread connecting the Art Awards, Symposium, and Fashion Performance events.

According to CIAF’s Artistic Director, Francoise Lane, more than 300 works are anticipated to be included in the Art Fair exhibition at Cairns Convention Centre. “Works will be chosen on their artistic merit and response to this year’s Country Speaking theme,” said Ms Lane.

“This is an opportunity for artists to explore their spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental relationship to the Country, a strong First Nations concept embodying 65,000 years of deep connection to the land, waters, skies, and seas. Country speaks. It always has and always will. The question is, are we listening?” she said.

In addition to the Art Fair, a second signature, a 15th anniversary-themed exhibition, Not Selling Cakes, will be presented at Tanks Arts Centre. It will recognise outstanding artists who have contributed to CIAF since its inception in 2009, underscoring their pivotal role in the Queensland Indigenous art movement.

“CIAF has become a platform for catapulting the careers of artists, arts workers, and performers. It is a space to discover new talent and celebrate established ones. In a unique attribute compared to other art fairs held in capital cities, CIAF artists and performers are showcased in the tropical paradise of Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest,” said Ms Lane.

Treaty, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships and Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair is a signature Queensland cultural event.

“The Queensland Government has supported CIAF since the first fair in 2009 and is investing $1 million in this year’s event, creating an ethical marketplace for First Nations artists to promote and sell their work,” said Ms Enoch.

“We know there’s significant demand for Queensland First Nations art in Australia and overseas, which also delivers opportunities to share and elevate the diverse and unique stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In 2024, CIAF will present two satellite events to ‘warm up’ the city’s heart with First Nations’ cultural flair before culminating in the official four-day program starting Thursday 25 July.

The second annual BLAKtivation with ‘live and free’ art, music, dance, illuminations and markets, will be held in the CBD on Saturday 13 July. It will be followed by Cairns Regional Council’s presentation of Music on the Lawn at Court House Gallery, starring musicians Broden Tyrell, Yirghilya and Kee’Ahn.

A special concert from Torres Strait Islander Patrick Mau of Mau Power fame, with a musical celebration of his 2014 album release, Island Home, on Saturday 20 July.

The 2024 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) runs 25 – 28 July. For more information and full program, for details.

Image: CIAF artistic director Francoise Lane with assorted artworks by artists from Wik & Kugu Art Centre (supplied)