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A Cultural Connection

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) is gearing up for a massive year in 2020, with the ever-popular Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, the fourth instalment of the From Country to Couture fashion shows, and, for the first time, the National Indigenous Fashion Awards.

The DAAFF team is calling out for Indigenous artists and designers to get involved, with expressions of interest for 2020 now open!

By Tierney White

Since 2007, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) has showcased Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and artistic diversity through the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF). These days, the national not-for-profit organisation is owned and directed by a membership of 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art centres, who collectively represent more than 10,000 artists across the country.

The popularity of DAAF and the fashion shows consistently gains momentum year after year, attracting interest from national and international visitors, art collectors, media and fashion designers. 2019 saw one of the most exciting collaborations in the Australian fashion world with the Mangkaja x Gorman Collection. It’s no surprise, then, that this interest has culminated with the introduction of the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards.

DAAFF Research & Development Officer Nina Fitzgerald says the awards further cement Darwin’s position on the national map for celebrating and acknowledging Indigenous culture and creativity.

“Darwin is now home to the ‘trilogy’ of Australian Indigenous arts awards including the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, National Indigenous Music Awards, and the National Indigenous Fashion Awards,” she says.

“We are very proud to have the opportunity to present the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards – fashion and textiles are an important contemporary platform for artists and designers to express their historical and sacred stories. The awards will cement the Northern Territory as the beating heart of Indigenous fashion.” 

Expressions of interest are now open for artists and designers to be considered for the 2020 fashion shows, and nominations for the fashion awards will open in March 2020. But there’s one key criterion organisers are looking out for in all submissions. 

“The most important application criteria for From Country to Couture and the National Indigenous Fashion Awards is the focus on Indigenous agency,” Fitzgerald says.

“The Indigenous fashion movement is incredibly exciting and is growing at a rapid pace. We are therefore very conscious of prioritising and featuring collections that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and fashion designers have directed at each and every part of the production process, including textile and fashion designing, manufacturing, marketing and retailing.

“We need to know that our First Nations creatives are the drivers of these vibrant collections, and the future of Indigenous fashion.”

Expressions of interest are also invited for the 2020 DAAF Public Program. 2019 attracted over 17,000 visitors to the three-day art fair, providing the opportunity to soak up our country’s incredible Indigenous culture through artist workshops, food workshops, artist talks and cultural dance performances.

Local Indigenous artist, musician and emerging curator Shilo McNamee is DAAFF’s Public Program Coordinator, and says the DAAF Public Program is continually evolving.

“This year, we changed the format a little. We moved from casual drop-in sessions to artist masterclasses, where participant numbers were capped,” she says.

“As an artist, I really look forward to learning about different methods and practices, and hearing from artists who have travelled from some of the most remote regions of Australia. This space is about cultural immersion – we want participants to feel comfortable to watch and ask questions.”

And according to McNamee, when it comes to the DAAF Public Program, variety is the spice of life.

“I really love the diversity of our program – there is definitely something for everyone to enjoy. For the public program EOIs, we are looking for solo performers in our lunchtime concert series, presenters for workshops and cultural learning, and cultural storytellers and artists for our children’s education and workshop space,” she says.

“We are also working with local Aboriginal artist Darlene Devery to develop our children’s interactive education space into something really engaging and exciting. I can’t wait to see the full program come together!”

Expressions of interest for From Country to Couture and the DAAF Public Program are open now, and nominations for the inaugural fashion awards will open in March 2020.


1. 2019 From Country to Couture, Julie Shaw, MAARA Collective x Bula'bula Aboriginal Arts Corporation, MAARA Collection. Photo: Dylan Buckee
2. 2019 From Country to Couture, Aly De Groot x Anindilyakwa Arts, Bush Dye Collection. Photo: Kate Noble Photography
3. 2019 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Arpaka Dancers from Thursday Island. Photo: Dylan Buckee
4. 2019 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Children's Workshop with Anindilyakwa Arts. Photo: Dylan Buckee

Thumbnail and header: Gracie Kumbi, 'Yams', Screen printed 2019, Screen print on linen, 2mx1.37m, Merrepen Arts

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