The 14th edition of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) came to a close on Sunday, marking the end of a remarkable four-day festival honoring the artistic and cultural heritage of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. With the theme “Weaving our Future: Claiming our Sovereignty,” CIAF’s diverse program featured art exhibitions, cultural dance performances, a fashion show, a symposium, masterclasses, workshops, a music festival, and more. Visitors from near and far flocked to the event, immersing themselves in the largest cultural gathering to date.
During the closing ceremony, the winners of CIAF’s prestigious awards were announced, further enhancing the event’s status. Toby Cedar, a Torres Strait Islander artist, received the 3-D Installation and Sculpture Award sponsored by Ports North ($5,000), while Mylene Holroyd from Pormpuraaw won Apunipima’s Emerging Artist (Acquisitive) Award ($5,000). Douglas Tamwoy, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artist, was recognized with the Torres Strait Regional Authority’s People’s Choice Award ($5,000).
These recipients joined the list of honorees announced at the opening event, including Janet Koongotema, who received the Premier’s Award for Excellence ($25,000), Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre, which won Cairns Regional Council’s Art Centre Award ($10,000), and Darren Blackman, an independent artist based in the Sunshine Coast, who received Holding Redlich’s Innovation Award ($10,000). The extensive CIAF program encompassed over 50 events, with highlights such as the sold-out fashion performances of Woven at Tanks Art Centre, featuring 14 designer collections and 17 models. Masterclasses were also fully subscribed, and satellite exhibition openings drew substantial crowds, as did the Opening Night, Symposium, and Music in the Park events, which recorded impressive sales.
Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, a Quandamooka artist and designer, showcased her fashion collection for the second consecutive year at CIAF. She described Friday’s performance as the ideal platform to bring her family’s generational story of art and culture to life through garments adorned with hand-woven elements and prints reflecting her great grandmother’s basketry, her grandmother’s writings, and her mother’s mat making.
Meanwhile, the Cairns Convention Centre, CIAF’s event headquarters and hub, attracted significant crowds with its Art Fair, Art Market, and free activities and workshops. Over 500 artworks were on display at the Art Fair, and many were acquired by collectors and institutions from across Australia and abroad. A highlight was the Coconut Leaf Project, featuring seven large-scale installations handwoven by master weavers from the Torres Strait Islands. These skilled artisans traveled to Cairns to revive and celebrate this culturally significant but endangered art form.
Sales were reported across the 14 art centers, nine independent galleries, and artists in the Art Fair, as well as at the 60 market stalls. Notable acquisitions included Cairns artist Susan Rey’s hand-painted piano by QPAC in Brisbane, Townsville artist Gail Mabo’s mixed media wall installations acquired by the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, and Toby Cedar’s Nar (canoe) purchased by Cairns Airport for display at the international terminal.
CIAF Artistic Director Francoise Lane reflected on the event’s success, stating that CIAF 2023 demonstrated a growing appetite for immersive First Nations arts and culture experiences. She expressed her pride in elevating artistic and public programming to new heights, captivating visitors’ attention while providing an authentic and meaningful experience. Lane said that CIAF’s role as a platform for storytelling, truth-telling, knowledge sharing, and cultural exchange between distinct and diverse cultures, bridging the past, present, and future.