Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is thriving. It is dynamic, rich and prolific. Lovely sculptural pieces, rich paintings on bark, acrylic paint on canvas, fabrics – it is tens of thousands of years old but also contemporary.
The stories are still strong and our ancestors are still teaching. And there is an art market that is appreciating the beautiful and diverse artwork that we have as part of our heritage. As an Aboriginal person who has seen the development of the culture and the art over the last 40 years, I’m incredibly excited by the state of the industry.
Driving this movement are the Aboriginal-owned art centres, which represent the artists. Art centres foster and develop Indigenous art by providing community hubs in remote locations, and furnish artists with the resources and facilities they need to sustain their work.
They are the ones who make the wider appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artwork possible – the intermediaries. The tell the art sector: “Stand back a bit. Let our people do what they need to do”.
They are the ones saying: “No, you should be paying more for that because that’s a good painting and that’s a strong dreaming”. They provide a safe place for artists to do what they do best, to teach our culture to the wider world.
I am proud to be the chair of the Darwin Aboriginal art fair foundation. We are all about promoting Indigenous art to the wider community so that they can understand the rich heritage of this continent and providing a platform for these art centres to take their art to the world.
Our main project is the Darwin Aboriginal art fair. It’s a remarkable three-day event where art centres showcase and sell works directly to the public. There are also cultural performances and artist workshops. The fair started from very humble beginnings in 2007 with 16 art centres and has grown to involve more than 50 art centres representing over 2,000 artists.
The event itself is owned and operated by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art centres and 100% of the money generated through sales at the fair goes directly back to the art centres, the artists and their communities. Over the past three years, the fair has generated over $4.8m for the Indigenous art centres. In many remote communities, trading from art production is the only source of commercial income available.
But beyond the economic impact, the art fair is also an important way for Indigenous & non-Indigenous people to come together and to learn from each other. Yes, there are sales going on and people walking away with beautiful works to take home, but equally, what they’re also taking home is a greater understanding of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people, their culture and the art.
For a lot of us, we first experience Indigenous art through museums, art galleries or even magazines, television or newspapers but at the fair, what we are showing is this wonderful depth and breadth and beauty of Aboriginal arts & culture that everyone is welcome to experience.
In the lead up to the 10th anniversary of the fair, we’re looking at that wider community to come on board with us on this amazing journey by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign on IndigenousX.
We are trying to raise $25,000 to support more artists and art centres to attend the event in 2016, provide them with more professional development opportunities and launch exciting new initiatives including the first ever Darwin Aboriginal art fair fashion show. This isn’t about an “us” or “them” approach. This is about us coming together, sharing, learning, supporting and encouraging. We have so much to gain from each other.