Left to right: Nancy Cowan Bunyaydinyu Bagu ceramic, wire (2O11) ; Nancy Beeron Bunyaydinyu Bagu ceramic, wool, twine (2O11); Gloria Andy Bunyaydinyu Bagu ceramic, wire, shells, beads (2O11); Grace Reid Bunyaydinyu Bagu ceramic, wire, wool (2O11); Eileen

Jeremy Eccles | 02.05.12

Publication date: 20120810000000

Both of the country's major Indigenous art fairs have announced their plans for 2012 – and give every impression of being stronger than ever.

While the Cairns Fair (CIAF – 16 to 19 August) has always had the potent backing of the Queensland Government, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF – 10 to 12 August), which preceded it when Apolline Kohen from Maningrida decided that it was essential for the community art centres of the NT to have a visible presence when the NATSIAAs were on in Darwin, has always felt like a little orphan in comparison. Now it has announced a “New Chapter” with a new Executive and a new DAAF Foundation to give it more secure funding and a national presence.

Local Larrakia woman, Franchesca Cubillo – also Senior Curator of ATSI Art at the National Gallery in Canberra – emerges as the Chair of of DAAF Foundation. She's backed by Desart and ANKAAA representatives, three art centre chieftains, the Indigenous philanthropy expert Russell Smith and a Larrakia spokesperson.

DAAF is returning to the waterfront Convention Centre – which is a bit clean-cut for the delightful melange of art centre stands, artists and their un-stretched works that make DAAF such a colourful occasion. There are usually also ceremonial events, dance and music and a book launch or two. It's an important counter-balance to the NATSIAAs at the local Museum and Art Gallery and the many commercial shows that long ago realised it was the one time of the year in Darwin – during perfect winter weather – when collectors could be expected to visit the Deep North.

In Cairns, CIAF is now established as the place to see, buy and talk about Queensland art. Don't expect any Territorians or Kimberleyites on show! However, you do get a heavy proportion of those political Brisbanites – who have so little in common with the Cape or the Torres Strait Islands, but complain bitterly if they get left out! It'll be interesting to see how the balance works out this year with a second boat-shed coming on stream for the main event, where 16 community arts centres and 8 commercial galleries take pride of place.

Director Avril Quaill gets her moment in the sun with a curated show of Queensland work - Where the art leads: new explorations by Queensland Indigenous artists - who include: Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Michael Cook, Joanne Currie, Nephi Denham, Sally Gabori, Gordon Hookey, Craig Koomeeta, Glen Mackie, Justin Majid, Shirley Macnamara, Arone Meeks, Billy Missi, Abe Muriata, Rosella Namok, Laurie Nilsen, Leigh Namponan, Sharon Phineasa, Zane Saunders, Ken Thaiday Snr, Ian Waldron and Judy Watson. It's a roster of pretty familiar names – with the exciting addition of the less-well-known Justin Majid and Sharon Phineasa.

Then there's the lively symposium – where Melbourne's Destiny Deacon will deliver the keynote speech from her Cape York and Islander ancestry, and Michael Reid – the Sydney galleryist and market analyst will bring a harder head. Mt Isa weaver and sculptural basket-maker, Shirley Macnamara and other art stars will also participate.

Four important survey shows will accompany the main event. The break-out curator and TSI artist, Brian Robinson will mix old and older worlds, blending Island legends with Greek myths in his men+GODS show of master-printmaking. The Rainforest – home to a mighty shield-making tradition – will be viewed through the eyes of Michael Anning and Napoleon Oui. Cairns-man Arone Meeks has been up the Cape to work with community artists in Yarrabah, Bamaga and New Mapoon, which should prove interesting. And the inveterate Dennis Nona is moving away from mind-bogglingly complex legend-telling in his prints to attempt to capture ephemeral and abstract visions of animals moving through their natural environment.

That's the known knowns. Then one wonders what innovation will come out of the blue. Last year it was the famous designer Linda Jackson working with Mossman women; previously, the Girringung Aboriginal Art Centre produced wacky ceramic funerary-figures out of nowhere – and now they're the key image for CIAF 2012.


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Regina Jimarin with her pandanus design (on cotton) at last year's DAAF


Brian Robinson's 'Cast net Waiben wharf' 2O11. Linocut. 6O.2 x 45cm. Edition of 1O. Artwork courtesy the artist, KickArts Contemporary Arts and Djumbunji Press


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