The realities of border closures, lockdowns and social distancing was something that many events organisers had to grapple with in 2020, trying to forge a way ahead for headlining cultural and arts festivals whose stock and trade was bringing people together in celebration.
It is a situation that the renowned Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (affectionately known as DAAF) also had to deal with, but one that actually ended in new-found success.
The 2020 Fair transitioned from its usual large gathering on Larrakia Country at the Darwin Convention Centre to an exclusively digital offering, allowing it to showcase an artform with traditions and practices stretching back in a straight line through multiple millennia in a surprisingly modern way.
The organisers ensured the quality of the art on show, and the depth of the cultural program on offer, was in no way compromised.
In fact, the program was expanded to include the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards, a celebration of fashion and fabric design by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fashion designers and artists.
The increase in accessibility for attendees and buyers – and the resulting worldwide exposure it afforded the Indigenous artists showcasing their amazing works – is something the organisers are committed to building on. As a result, this year DAAF will again forge a bold new path, inviting artists and visitors to make a triumphant return to Larrakia Country from August 6–8 while expanding the Public Program to a year-round digital series in order to inspire and thrill audiences across Australia and around the globe.
Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair – better than ever
DAAF’s significance to both artists and the public is indisputable.
Over the course of its 15- year history, the internationally recognised event has become one of the largest gatherings of established and emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in the country, providing an invaluable opportunity for more than 70 Indigenous-owned and operated Art Centres across Australia and the Torres Strait to showcase the works of thousands of artists to an engaged and appreciative audience.
Add to this a program of events displaying the rich diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture – from food to dance to storytelling – and the event represents both an important and joyful gathering for people from remote desert and coastal regions and rural and urban communities, as well as an opportunity to celebrate and share their ancient traditions with non-Indigenous Australians.
Those excited about returning to Darwin for the event should definitely plan to be in town from August 3, when the second National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA), which celebrates the innovation, diversity and ethical practices of Australia’s First Nations people in fashion and textile design, will take place to coincide with the Fair in Darwin.
The prestigious awards recognise excellence in the areas of Cultural Adornment and Wearable Art, Textile Design, Fashion Design, Environmental and Social Contribution and Community Collaboration.
These will be followed on August 4 with the colour and beauty of Country to Couture Runway, presenting collections from Indigenous designers and artists across the country.
The Fair itself begins on August 6. Visitors can view art and interact with the Art Centres and artists themselves over three days, while also taking in the Public Program that will include artist talks, dance performances, great culinary experiences and a dedicated Kids Activity Station curated with laughter and fun in mind.
The Fair, fashion awards and Country to Couture Runway are all held within the Darwin Convention Centre.
The who’s who of Aboriginal Art Centres in one place
This year, as in the past, a rollcall of headlining Art Centres will be in attendance. Art Centres hold a position of great importance within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Not only do they act as thriving meeting places where cultural practices are maintained and strengthened, they also provide training, education and vital and rewarding career pathways and enterprise for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
They are also called upon to give assistance with health, family, legal and financial management issues, and offer a safe and supportive environment for artists and their families, which contributes to the social and physical health of community members.
Some of the Arts Centres attending DAAF in 2021 include;
- Central Australia’s Artists of Ampilatwatja, known for its beautiful works, many depicting medicine and desert landscapes;
- Hermannsburg Potters, based in the remote foothills of the MacDonnell Ranges, where the artists produce hand-crafted terracotta and under-glazed pots depicting elements present in stories of Country and current life in Ntaria (Hermannsburg);
- Merrepen Arts Centre, located 250 kilometres from Darwin, and well-known for its unique vibrant work on fabric, paintings, prints and weavings;
- Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community in north-east Arnhem Land, about 700 kilometres east of Darwin.
To give and take
At the heart of everything that takes place at DAAF is a unique and mutually beneficial give and take that is fostering positive social and economic outcomes for all involved.
The Fair not only provides a welcoming and inclusive environment for First Nations people to meet and celebrate their own culture, traditions and diversity, but also allows them to generously share these with non-Indigenous Australians.
Of equal importance is the fact DAAF gives those attending the opportunity to purchase world-class art in an ethical way.
DAAF is staged by the not-for-profit Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation, which does not collect commission on works sold, meaning that 100 per cent of the money made (in excess of $14.26 million has been generated for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art sector in the last six years) goes directly to the artists and their communities.
This money offers not only economic independence but also ensures that people can continue to live and thrive on their homelands, and preserve their unique cultural practices, ceremonies, language, art and spirituality.