Cairns Indigenous Art Fair weaves two cultures into one extraordinary event

Kawadji-Wilmpa-Dancers-from-Lockhart-River-at-the-CIAF-Art-Fair-2022--photo-by-Blueclick-Photography For the next four days, Cairns will move to a vibrant, artistic, and cultural beat celebrating the rich traditions, creativity, and contemporary talent of Queensland’s First Nations peoples at the 14th annual, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF): 13 to 16 July 2023.

First Nations art and culture lovers, along with a delegation of collectors and curators from Australia’s leading galleries, museums and institutions have arrived in Cairns for CIAF’s biggest and most culturally immersive program to date comprising a mostly free and ticketed event of exhibitions and performances, a public program of cross-cultural sharing, masterclasses, workshops, markets, a children’s art, and craft hub and more.

Staged within the surrounds of its world-class hub and headquarters, the Cairns Convention Centre, as well as satellite venues across the city that include Cairns Art Gallery, Court House Gallery, Munro Martin Parklands, NorthSite Contemporary Arts, Bulmba-ja and Tanks Arts Centre, CIAF is expected to welcome 50,000 visitors while showcasing the work of some 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual and performing artists from across the length and breadth of Queensland including many remote communities.

CIAF 2023 gets underway this evening with an Opening Night Party at the Cairns Convention Centre featuring a special musical program commencing with a performance by the young and powerful female voices of Marliya Choir, followed by Bulkaway Muruki featuring Kuku Yalanji darling Merindi Schrieber, Nikki Doll and Natalia Mann, cultural dancing, and the three major winners will be announced in CIAF’s 7th annual Art Awards.

Opening night guests will also enjoy a first glimpse of the Art Fair comprising some 300 pieces of visual art created in response to this year’s theme, Weaving our Future: Claiming our Sovereignty by Queensland’s most accomplished and collectible First Nations artists.

Guests may also visit the Art Market and view the impressive Coconut Leaf Project of seven large-scale, 3-D handwoven artefacts by a collective of six master weaving artists from the Torres Strait Islands.

Also taking a cue from this year’s curatorial theme is CIAF’s new-look, two-day Symposium that will be held on Friday 14 July and Saturday 15 July at Bulmba-ja Arts Centre along with the much anticipated, decade-anniversary Fashion Performance of Woven at Tanks Arts Centre on Thursday 13 July and Friday 14 July.

Set in the stunning outdoor setting of Munro Martin Parklands and destined to be a memorable evening under the stars, is CIAF’s Music in the Park – Live it Up! on Saturday 15 July.

The main drawcard for this family-friendly event is Spinifex Gum, a powerful performance piece comprising music and dance featuring Marliya Choir with Felix Riebl from Cat Empire and Emma Donovan, supported by a host of other well-known performers including Cairns darlings’ Shakaya, Normie Jaye, and Uncle Harold Bowen.

CIAF’s visual feast extends across the city’s cultural precincts and includes two special satellite exhibitions. Curated by Nerelle Nicol, Lugger Bort at Tanks Arts Centre is dedicated to the working life of Aboriginal, Torres Strait and South Sea Islanders involved in the pearling, beche-de-mer and trochus industries, living on luggers in Far North Queensland.

The second, Past, Present, Future at Court House Gallery is a homage to the vibrant southeast Queensland creative arts community that came out of the Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art (CAIA program at the Queensland College of Art (QCA), Griffith University.

Added to these, NorthSite Contemporary Arts will present a First Nations Exhibitions Showcase at Bulmba-ja. These include Moa Arts – Malu Bardthar Dapar – Sea Land Sky, Kim Ah Sam – Woven Identity, Keemon Williams – KaiKai, Sovereignty (Nicole Enoch-Chattfield, Sheila Brimm, Sheree Jacobs and Susan Reyes) curated by Jamaylya Ballangarry-Kearins and Heather Koowootha, The Bush people’s walking pathways of Country site’s and story place.

Delivering her first program in the role of CIAF’s Artistic Director Francoise Lane said she is proud to be at the helm of such an important event intrinsic to the expression and wellbeing of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and representing an important step on the path to reconciliation.

“From its art fair beginnings in 2009 CIAF has evolved into a meaningful and multi-disciplinary event for cultural exchange, truth-telling, and knowledge sharing that over the years has launched careers, provided pathways and is a valuable source of income underpinning the development and future of Queensland’s First Nations artists and
industry,” said Ms Lane.

In the organisation’s history, total art sales have exceeded $9 million; the majority of which has been returned to the state’s thriving arts and culture community.

“Whether it’s music, art, or learning something new, the magic of CIAF is its intimacy, its opportunity to meet and yarn with First Nations people who come together in Cairns from the most remote areas of Queensland and the Torres Strait in one extraordinary event,” she said.

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said CIAF 2023 would present a powerful showcase of First Nations arts, cultures, and knowledge with support from the Queensland Government.

“Art, culture and storytelling are central to the important work of truth-telling and healing, as we continue on the Path to Treaty in Queensland, and CIAF continues to celebrate the unique and ancient history of the world’s oldest living cultures,” said The Minister.

“The Queensland Government has invested in CIAF since the 2009 inaugural event with ongoing operational support and project funding to enable the employment and skills development of First Nations artists and arts workers.”

“Queensland Government’s $1.6 million uplift funding over the next four years will further support CIAF into the future to expand opportunities for artists and grow economic and cultural tourism outcomes for the Cairns region ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Minister Enoch.

The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) continues to Sunday 16 July 2023. For more information and full program, visit: for details.

Image: Kawadji Wilmpa Dancers from Lockhart River at the CIAF Art Fair 2022 – photo by Blueclick Photography