Celebrating 15 Years of CIAF

Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) is Queensland’s premier Indigenous art fair, committed to strengthening and celebrating culture, providing an ethical point of sale for Queensland Indigenous art, and supporting the career development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. 

Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) is Queensland’s premier Indigenous art fair, committed to strengthening and celebrating culture, providing an ethical point of sale for Queensland Indigenous art, and supporting the career development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Established by the Queensland Government in 2009, CIAF transitioned to an independent not-for-profit entity in 2013, and now is governed by majority First Nations leaders. The Fair exists to provide a platform for cultural exchange, collaboration, and economic opportunity for Queensland First Nations artists and Art Centres. CIAF recently announced the appointment of its new CEO, Dennis Stokes, who brings two decades of experience in the arts and media sector and a deep commitment to empowering First Nations voices and self-determination in the arts to the role.

CIAF’s centerpiece is a multi-day art fair, held annually in July at the Cairns Convention Centre and satellite venues within Cairns. Extending beyond a typical marketplace and exhibition showcase, CIAF includes traditional and contemporary live performance: music, song and dance; theatre and fashion; workshops and informative talks. Audiences are treated to programmed conversations, workshops, demonstrations, and experiences designed to share Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and culture in an immersive and exciting experience.  The Fair is a celebratory event that highlights the importance of culture to the Queensland community, and holds a stand-alone position in the Australian arts landscape as the only event of its type to feature a wide cross section of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts.

A booth at the CIAF 2023 Art Market.

CIAF’s diverse programming offers a range of free and ticketed events, exhibitions, and performances each year. Performances in music, dance, theatre, fashion and more have seen the number of shows and performances increasing each year and frequently selling out.  The Fashion Performance is a stand-out event each year - its unique blend of runway, choreography and song distinguish it from other national Indigenous fashion events, and all three shows sold out in 2023.

CIAF’s 2024 program will celebrate the organisation’s evolution and growth over the past 15 years, featuring hundreds of First Nations artists, performers, fashion designers, and creatives. CIAF’s artistic director, Francoise Lane, said CIAF’s anniversary season is a testament to Queensland’s thriving First Nations arts and culture industry and its place on the world stage.

“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 southeast corner.”

Free Coconut Leaf Weaving Workshop, CIAF 2023

CIAF 2024 will be held over four action-packed days, from Thursday 25 July to Sunday 28 July. While CIAF’s event program is predominantly free and for all ages to enjoy, ticketed events include program favourites: the Opening Night Party at Cairns Convention Centre, the two-day Symposium and cultural think tank at Bulmba-ja Arts Centre, highly anticipated ‘Light the Fire’ fashion performances at the Tanks Arts Centre, as well as live music performance, ‘No Shame in My Game’ from First Nations rapper and musician Barkaa, supported by Simone Stacey and held at the Tanks Arts Centre.

CIAF 2024’s theme, ‘Country Speaking’ connects all aspects of the program, providing 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.

CIAF will present two satellite events ahead of the Fair, along with a signature 15th anniversary exhibition, ‘Not Selling Cakes’, paying homage to the artists who have contributed to CIAF and the Queensland Indigenous art movement since its inception in 2009.

The second annual Urban BLAKtivation, a family friendly, accessible arts and cultural event with Indigenous dance performances, digital art projections, sculptural art installations, story tellers, and poets will be held in the CBD on Saturday 13 July. It will be followed by CIAF partner Cairns Regional Council event Out on the Lawn, featuring live music from First Nations musicians Kee’ahn, Yirghilya, and Broden Tyrrell at the Cairns Court House lawns.

CIAF 2023 Art Fair attendees take in the woven ghost net sculptures.

In addition to the art fair event, CIAF runs several programs designed to support First Nations artists with the development of their career. The CIAF Collectors and Curators program facilitates meetings with artists, leading to acquisitions for private and public collections worldwide, and has seen increasing success each year. Collectors, curators, and gallery representatives are invited to exclusive CIAF events and exhibitions designed to create opportunities for dialogue between artists and program members. The program has resulted in significant success for CIAF in creating opportunities for artists, as well as significant sales to major cultural institutions across Australia, elevating the profiles of both Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and the event itself.

CIAF visited my studio in early 2022 and invited me to participate in that year’s Fashion Performance. The encouragement alone gave me the confidence to work on my ‘Tawalpin-String Making’ collection and then to again bring my 2023 collection ‘dilly bag and mat making’. This exposure and experience quickly led to work with Mob in Fashion, La Boite Theatre, and designing
garments for the 2023 Oscars and Logies. I’m forever grateful to CIAF.

- Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, First nations artist and designer.

The CIAF Indigenous Art Awards were created in 2017 to provide an opportunity for artists to increase their profile in the pursuit of innovation and excellence. As a showcase of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, the Art Awards have been successful in driving the quality of exhibited work and elevating the excellence of Indigenous artists.

CIAF plays a critical role in strengthening Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture by providing artists the opportunity to share stories, collaborate and celebrate their connection to Culture and Country. The Fair also provides an important interface for the non-Indigenous community to experience Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture and purchase artwork in an ethically run marketplace. The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair is a new TFFF partner and is supported through the Resilience stream, which provides multi-year general operational support funding. The TFFF recognises the value of providing support to strengthen CIAF’s operational capacity and aims to empower CIAF, and organisations like it, to focus on its strategic objectives and effectively realise its goals. CIAF will utilise TFFF funds to expand its Fashion Performance event and fulfil its vision of delivering a nationally recognised First Nations fashion show showcasing excellence in fashion and textile design.

Cover photo: CIAF 2023 Opening Night. All photos courtesy of Cairns Indigenous Art Fair.

The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair is supported through the Resilience stream.

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