Celebrating thousands of years of creativity and cultural practice, the annual Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) shines a spotlight on Indigenous art, firmly placing it in its rightful place, front and centre on the local and national calendar. And although the 2021 DAAF is being delivered digitally for a second year, there’s oh so much to celebrate, and to become immersed in.
By Tierney Seccull
Since 2007, DAAF has championed Indigenous artwork created by artists from art centres across the country, providing a physical meeting place in the Territory’s capital for artists, arts workers and art aficionados.
Presented under the Darwin Festival umbrella – in conjunction with other flagship national Indigenous events, such as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, Salon des Refusés and National Indigenous Music Awards – DAAF showcases the creativity of emerging and established artists.
The artworks are inspired by Australia’s diverse landscapes – from remote desert and coastal regions, to rural and urban communities.
Although a difficult decision to make, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) Executive Director Claire Summers says the call to move this year’s Fair online was the right one.
“We were looking at the health, safety and wellbeing of Indigenous communities right across Australia, knowing how important it was they were protected,” she says.
“When we hit planning for this year, we did so with some confidence, thinking the vaccine was rolling out and Australia was heading towards zero cases. Right up until a couple of days before we made our formal announcement, we were indeed planning for a really vibrant and exciting physical event.
“We were looking at a record number of art centres participating, and even though we couldn’t have international visitors' participation, we knew people were attending from right across Australia.”
Ensuring the safety of Indigenous artists and communities is paramount for the organisation, and after executing a digital format last year, the DAAFF team again rolled with the punches to adapt to a virtual Fair in 2021.
But this isn't entirely bad news. Not even close.
“We’ve actually had more art centres register as a result, so we’re looking at having this incredible bumper year back online … to be able to use our digital platform to reach new audiences and to generate more excitement about our Indigenous art, and also about the Northern Territory, is an amazing opportunity. We’re very excited to move ahead!”
The public program, which includes a diverse selection of workshops and artist talks, has also been readily adaptable to an online format.
Local Indigenous artist, musician and curator, Shilo McNamee, is DAAFF’s Artistic Director, who says the program is still going full steam ahead, just as it did last year.
“The strategy was to keep the same scheduling but simply present it online. With a few tricky unknowns [last year] we just decided to give it a go to see how it would end up – cultural performance, for instance, and lunchtime concerts were streamed on Facebook, which was fun,” she says.
As the artistic workshops contain a physical element, adapting them to online classes was, at first, a bit daunting. Despite this, participants were eager to get on board – or rather, online – learning from the artists as they livestreamed their classes, direct from Country.
“Last year we had an amazing uptake – the workshops all sold out within about two to three days, which was exciting given it was a new mode of delivery for us,” McNamee says.
“This year, it’s been fairly smooth. We’ve got a really good range of workshops. There’s a weaving workshop with Anindilyakwa Arts who are doing a family-friendly doll-making workshop out of recycled fish nets and materials, which is super cute. We have a gorgeous new painting workshop on offer, Bush Botanica with Artists of Ampilatwatja, and also lino printing, jewellery making – there’s a really good cross-section of mediums and styles.”
Although coming together on Larrakia Country in one central meeting place has been parked for this year, a silver lining is that artists can remain on Country.
“Many of the artists actually felt really empowered when they were delivering artists’ workshops, for example, because they had the comfort of being in their art centres, on Country,” Summers says.
“They really enjoyed the experience of not having to deal with the vibrancy and the noise and the bustle of the busy Art Fair. They could quietly present their workshops and feel empowered by it. We had reports back that artists would sit back, late at night, watching their artwork being sold online and getting excited.”
This month, throw your support behind our country’s incredible Indigenous artists and relish the chance to purchase authentic artwork direct from over 70 Indigenous-owned art centres.
And, if you happen to make a late night purchase, there might just be one very grateful artist smiling away quietly on Country, because you’ve made their day.
Indigenous Fashion Projects
Although much of the 2021 DAAF is delivered digitally, there are still two very exciting events taking place on Larrakia Country. Read about the exciting world of Indigenous fashion and wearable art in Culture and Couture.
DAAF Online Public Program
FRI 6 AUG
Lino Carving with the Babbárra Women’s Centre
Artists teach participants how to carve their own lino with a design that is meaningful to them. The lino print on fabric process is demonstrated before participants are given the opportunity to print on fabric. Explore various layouts and repeat methods along with colour layering.
Painting with the Artists of Ampilatwatja
Artists guide participants in techniques to paint bush medicine plants using locally sourced flowers and native grasses. Learn techniques to paint bush medicine plants, using locally sourced flowers and native grasses, under the expert guidance of artist Kathleen Rambler.
SUN 8 AUG
Ailan ‘One Twist’ Weaving with Moa Arts
Based on traditional weaving techniques from the Torres Strait, use raffia and sea cord in a twining process to make soft, colourful bags and baskets. This technique is similar to the methods used to make wicker and bamboo baskets, but the brilliant colour and flexibility of raffia allows for a far greater range of organic forms.
MON 9 AUG
Aboriginal Jewellery Making with Arlpwe Artists
Learn how to make your own bracelet, with a rich variety of seeds they collected in Ali Curung Community. The workshop kicks off with a presentation on jewellery making in Ali Curung and a talk about the seeds found around the community.
Coiled Basket, Weaving Masterclass with Injalak Arts
Join senior female weavers from Injalak Arts as they lead a masterclass in traditional weaving with Pandanus. Your follow along supply kit, contains everything you need to make your own stunning basket!
TUE 10 AUG
Ghost Net Doll Making with Anindilyakwa Arts
Join artists from Umbakumba Community in Groote Eylandt in this family-friendly workshop to weave your own doll from recycled fishing net. Gorgeous!
Artist Talk: Exhibitions and Projects with Indigenous Art Centre Alliance
Hear from the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA) about the ‘Belonging’ art development project, which will culminate in an exhibition at the National Museum of Canberra in September.
Artist Talk: Art & Fashion Projects
Join artists from walantanalinany palingina, Babbárra Women’s Centre, and Anindilyakwa Arts and Agency to hear about exciting new projects across the country.
Artist Talk: Aboriginal Screen-Printed textiles from Australia’s Top End
Hear from Dr Joanna Barrkman and key artist contributors involved in putting together this ground breaking publication.
Thumbnail & Header: Natalie Quall, 'Dangalaba Gathering in Waterhole' (detail), 2021, acrylic on canvas, 76x76cm. Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation
Top: Lizzie Jako, 'Waterhole near Temple Downs Station' (detail), 2021, acrylic on linen, 66.5x153cm. Photo courtesy Tangentyere Artists
Bottom: Ghost net doll making