The dry season oop north approaches, and so do the Big Two – the Indigenous art fairs in Cairns and Darwin.

First off the blocks is Cairns – now 15 years old and constantly mutating. As they modestly put it themselves, “Over four action-packed days, from Thursday, 25 July to Sunday, 28 July 2024, 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.

“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 south-east corner.

The 2024 theme, ‘Country Speaking’ will be reflected and felt across the program, including in the selection of more than 300 artworks, chosen on their artistic merit and in response to that theme. The Art Fair exhibition will be at Cairns Convention Centre.

Artistic Director, Francoise Lane explains: “This is an opportunity for artists to explore their spiritual, physical, emotional and mental relationship to 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?”.

There are also more than 20 free and ticketed events. CIAF’s program highlights include the Opening Night Party, the Art Fair, the Art Market featuring 55 stalls, and a public program of workshops, ghost net weaving, printmaking, digital drawing masterclasses and children’s activities presented around the Cairns Convention Centre hub. Several events and exhibitions will also occur about the city, including Bulmba-ja Arts Centre, Cairns Art Gallery – featuring Tommy Pau and Ryan Presley – the Court House Gallery, and the repurposed Tanks Arts Centre in Edge Hill’s botanical precinct.

There, a 15th anniversary-themed exhibition titled Not Selling Cakes pays tribute to selected artists who have contributed to CIAF since its inception in 2009. Responding to the number 15, CIAF invited 15 arts professionals to provide input into the development of the exhibition in celebration of art, culture, and community. ‘Not Selling Cakes’ is a statement by the late Torresian artist, Billy Missi, used as the title of a landmark 2006 report investigating the sustainability of Indigenous art centres in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait. It was a key factor in the launch of CIAF in 2009.

As it pioneered, CIAF will kick off with a fashion performance, ‘Light The Fire’ on July 25 and 26 at the Tanks Art Centre. And, surviving from the start, the CIAF Symposium runs on July 26 and 27 at Bulmba Ja Theatre.

Meanwhile, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, now approaching 20 years and better known as DAAF, runs in various forms from August 6th to 11th. It kicks off with the fashion on 6th and launches its 70+ art centre fair on the 8th. This runs until 11th in the Darwin Convention Centre and online.

In 2023, DAAF represented more than 1,600 artists from across Australia, working with a record 78 Art Centres. Excitingly, a whopping 140 artists attended the Fair in person. Even more excitingly, the fair achieved a new record in sales, generating $4.4 million through the physical and online sales! And since DAAF takes no commission, 100% of these sales went directly back to the Art Centres and their communities.

There were also two major fashion events: Country to Couture showcased a record 22 unique collections from First Nations designers and artists, with ready to wear collections and community Art Centre collaborations. Then there were the National Indigenous Fashion Awards. The two runway shows attracted more than 1000 attendees.

For 2024, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation, in partnership with the University of Melbourne, is delighted to announce the return of the Cultural Keepers Program. This provides a national meeting place to network, build relationships, and share your experience and knowledge with other First Nations visual art professionals.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander curators (both independent and from public institutions), senior Art Centre staff, and previous participants are encouraged to apply for these paid opportunities. But applications close on Friday 19 April. You can email Shilo McNamee at for more information.

Unlike CIAF, DAAF even has deals with local hotels to encourage your visitation.