“The centres sustain artists,” says the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair’s chair, Ursula Raymond. “They provide employment, they provide a place for people to be able to go and make their art, and they keep the artists connected to their country and to their culture”.

And that’s a fair justification for the increasing presence of First Nations only art fairs across the country. You’ve just missed the ‘Revealed’ art fair in Freo, for instance, though the associated exhibition of a youthful group of West Australian Aboriginal artists continues until July 23rd. The patriotic Westies, of course, only show their own folk.

Queensland does the same, so CIAF, coming up in Cairns from 13th to 16th July, will feature FNQ and Torres Strait art, a usually interesting Symposium, curated shows on the theme of Weaving our Future: Claiming our Sovereignty, performances and an intriguing event at the Tanks Arts Centre called ‘Lugger Bort’, which I take to be Ilan-speak for a history of TSI’s pearling industry.. It’s curated by Nerelle Nicol, availing herself of two men with direct pearling experience, Jeffrey Bob and George Mosby from the central Torres Strait Islands.

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair was surely the first of the bunch when Apolline Kohen pioneered the idea all of 17 years ago now. It’s the biggie from 11 to 13 August, and places an increasing emphasis on fashion with the National Indigenous Fashion Awards taking place annually.

Adelaide will see an expansion of the annual Tarnanthi Art Fair in October, for I note that it’s moving out of Tandanya and into the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

Finally, the AIATSIS Indigenous Art Market will surely happen again in Canberra in November, though no date seems yet to have been announced.

But there’s only one self-proclaimed National Indigenous Art Fair which has just closed after a weekend’s activity in Sydney. I got the distinct impression that with all the discourse about the Voice going on there was increased interest in the whole Indigenous thing, and people were eager to actually see remote artists in the flesh along with their cultural product.

It seems to have been a strange feature of the Voice campaigns to leave remote faces out of both sight and the argument.

So, Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal was heaving with punters – two floors (was that new?), unframed canvases spread everywhere, weaving workshops and occasional dancing, eager non-Indigenous staff asking all who paused for a second what they’d like to know, while the artists themselves were more likely to be busy on their phones! As a punter myself, I was grateful for my first clear understanding of the Girringun art centre’s speciality in wacky little flattened figures, their Bagu. In wood, it turns out they’re an all-male fire-lighting kit, not to be touched by the women. But these days, most are ceramic as the wily women have found a way to profit from their cultural traditions.

Bagu are perfect art fair fare. I also noted Arnhemland had transported loads of beautiful woven mats and dilly bags – both women’s work of course. Significant canvases were in shorter supply – not a single bark from Groote Eylandt, as their speciality today seems to be naturally died scarves. It was not considered worth the prestigious Buku Larrnggay’s worthwhile to come south. But, bravely, the APY Art Centre Collective was there with a mass of small canvases despite all the bad publicity it’s received of late.

I also noted the absence of Federal funding for the APYACC in the recent Art Department IVAIS round.

Back at the fair, T-shirts featured big with special note taken of the first appearance there of the Wik & Kugu Art Centre from Cape York, featuring one of their famous dogs whichg can be found around every corner in the Art Gallery of NSW’s new building. And, pace the weekend’s Day of Action for the Voice, a remote artist looked strong in a shirt proclaiming “Deadly Choice Vote Yes”.

Plenty of NSW regional arts groups seem to be preferancing NIAF over the South East Aboriginal Arts Market, which usually happens in October. I spotted Barkindji, Arts Out West, Yarrawarra, Arts North West and Bush Beauty Products from Bundjalung Country. But then, from farthest away, Juluwarlu from the Pilbara was not only selling art but painting it as they went. I feared for a moment I was catching ‘White Hands on Black Art’ when I saw a non-Indigenous face with paint-brush in hand. But the artist assured me her assistant was just “touching bits up”. A worthwhile effort you might think when a remarkably similar canvases was on offer for $5000.

Oddities on offer included swimming cossies from Maruku Arts at Uluru – not much swimming there! And a skateboard from the most out there of Tiwi artists, Columbiere Tipingwuti. Would you like to skate on a naked man?

Significant visitors spotted included Peppminarti’s doyen, Regina Pilawuk Wilson, founder and artis, and Toby Cedar, from Erub Island via Newcastle. And it’s always good to catch up with remote art centre managers like Ceceilia Alfonso and others from the Tiwi Islands.


When this article was originally published there was material included in good faith which suggested that Erub Arts had underpaid artists and had ceased selling art. These assertions were false and were taken down as soon as further information came my way. I and the Aboriginal Art Directory wish to apologise for any confusion or hurt caused to Erub Arts, its former artistic director, its artists and its staff. Erub Arts’ website now proudly assures readers to “Please contact Erub Arts to discuss sales, commissions and future exhibitions”.