Shining lights of the north

Aboriginal Art Directory | 25.08.09

Author: Nicholas Rothwell
News source: The Australian

WHAT are these colours amid the shadowed greenery? What are the sounds of chant and dance rhythm in the dark? Here, at the rainforest-surrounded Tanks Art Centre on the northern fringe of Cairns, in a set of converted World War II oil storage bunkers, a rich enterprise in Aboriginal art was making its debut over the course of a hectic weekend.

Tradition, innovation; grand ambitions, good intentions, anguished cultural debate: the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair was careful to offer its crowds of visitors an intriguing, multiplicit diet of image and sensation.

Director Michael Snelling wanted a fair that was a festival: not just art on the walls, but art enacted as well. Dancers from Cape York and the Torres Strait were on hand: art from their communities hung in well-lit exhibition spaces. Museum curators, collectors and gallerists came: so did the public, more than 2500 visitors a day, five times what the organisers had hoped for.

The event marked the great crescendo of Queensland's newest exercise in cultural engineering: more than $10 million has been committed to strengthening the art of the Cape and far north. Pioneering art centres and art hubs have been set up, dance projects and creative training ventures are thick on the ground. Dealers from Brisbane and the southern capitals have heard the call: new far north Queensland artists are being snapped up by established galleries, while a large contemporary venue, Canopy Arts, opened on the weekend in central Cairns with its own diverse show.

The aim of all this largesse, of course, is to highlight the cultural traditions of the state's remote north: to redress the imbalance that sees indigenous art lovers focus almost exclusively on the central deserts, Kimberley and Top End. Ever since the Queensland Art Gallery's landmark Story Place exhibition of 2003, the dream of a well-established remote area indigenous art sector has haunted the state. Even the art-makers have felt the call.

As Cape York ceramic artist Thanakupi puts it, "I have been making my art all my life now, as we all have for quite a long time: baskets, body paint, spears, woomeras, bark painting, so many things. It always seemed strange to me, seeing all the wonderful indigenous art from desert and Northern Territory and Western Australia, why not us?

"How did it happen that it took 400 years for us to be rediscovered?"


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Contact Details

Gallery: Tanks Art Centre
Contact: Stephen Foster
Telephone: +61 7 4032 6600
Address: 46 Collins Avenue Edge Hill Cairns 4870 QLD

Gallery: Cairns Indigenous Art Fair
Contact: Janina Harding / Vanessa Gillin
Telephone: 07 4050 7712
Address: 51 The Esplanade Cairns 4870 QLD



Further Research

Gallery: Tanks Art Centre

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