Cairns, Cape York and the Torres Strait may seem like impossible distances away from the southern capitals of Australia (and Tassie). But the promotion of their art – often with generous Queensland government assistance – is a huge counter-balance to the tyranny of distance. So, as well as the imminent Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), there are plans for a series of shows at the National Museum (NMA) in Canberra, appearances at the National Indigenous Art Fair in Sydney, and, most accessible of all, a new book that links to the NMA shows, ‘Belonging‘, featuring the art and style of all 11 community art centres represented by the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA).

Chronologically, the NIA Fair in Sydney is this weekend at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. It’s always wonderful to see remote artists in our cities, and the range of art centres they will come from runs from UMI Arts in the FNQ to Arts Ceduna in SA. En route strange names such as Ngwale Untye Art is a new name from just north of Mparntwe, Juluwarlu comes from Roebourne in WA, and Marawuddi operates in Kakadu.

Then comes CIAF, the last directed by Janina Harding, opening in Cairns on Wednesday July 6th, ,also selling online. The Fair will feature about 300 visual artists and almost150 performers will appear across a mostly free, multi-arts program working out of the city’s refurbished Convention Centre. Around the Centre, the inaugural Big Sculpture Showcase is offering 16 Queensland artists the chance to operate at scale, including Toby Cedar, Shirley Macnamara, Ian Waldron and a team of six from the Girringun Art Centre.

Inside the Centre, the Opening Night Party, 65 stalls in the Market, fashion shows and the annual Symposium will take place – the latter reflecting the Fair’s theme this year, ‘Masters of Country‘, with a keynote speech by Indigenous enthnobotanist, Gerry Turpin. Native plants will feature widely.

But so will Dylan Mooney, a proud Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander man from Mackay who features in two exhibitions outside the Convention Centre. In ‘A Story of My People’ at the Cairns Art Gallery, he explores themes of identity, culture and lives stripped bare because of colonisation; and in the group show, ‘Repatriate‘, he interrogates Blak histories across Queensland.

Art Awards worth $50,000 will be presented at the Opening Party – the Premier’s Award for Excellence, Art Centre of the Year, Emerging Artist, 3D Design Sculpture & Installation, and Innovation categories will be announced. The judges are José Roca, Artistic Director of the recent Biennale of Sydney, Katina Davidson, Curator of Indigenous Australian Art, Art QAGoMA and Gerry Turpin, Senior Ethnobotanist, Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre, James Cook University.

NorthSite Contemporary Art seems to be the hot place for independent art shows, featuring the interesting Injinoo artist and curator, Teho Ropeyarn’s ‘Traversing Three Realms: The physical, natural, and spiritual’, a Wik& Kugu show from western Cape York, a Bana Yirriji Art Centre exhibition with artists considering the concept of ‘sacred’, and a collaboration between artist Ken Thaiday Snr (Miriam Mir people) and designer, Grace Lillian Lee combining material culture and oral stories into a large-scale artwork, ‘Suggoo Pennise‘ seen at the Brisbane’s 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art.

Cairns Regional Gallery challenges with ‘FACELESS: Transforming Identity, Blak/Black artists from North Australia, Africa and the African Diaspora’, and the Tanks Art Centre offers ‘Dabiyil Bajara (Water Footprints), an ambitious installation featuring a series of six epic-scaled cyanotypes by Sonja Carmichael & Elisa Jane Carmichael draped from the ceiling, submerging audiences into a deep chasm of ancient Minjerribah stories, plants, and animals.

And so to Canberra on 21st July, when Belonging‘ opens at the National Museum. This first iteration features only four of the eleven IACA art centres – Hope Vale, Yarrabah, Moa in the Torres Strait and Mornington Island Arts. Three are ex-missions and Hope Vale in particular reflects that in its primarily biographical show by its artists. MIA has to contrast its original Lardil residents’ art (especially the Roughseys) with the later Bentinck arrivals moved in by missionaries – and how familiar we have become with names like Gabori and Loogatha. The Mualgal people from Moa Arts have chosen to move into photography for this exercise; while the Yarrabah artists reject their mission pasts with a ceramic collection of Hairy Men!

But IACA’s book covering the whole Belonging project is already available with a mass of images, each art centre’s history and overview essays by Tim Acker, film-maker Curtis Taylor and retiring IACA director, Pam Bigelow. Definitely the way to go if you can’t be in Cairns or Canberra.