CIAF comes home to Cairns after two-year COVID hiatus

Richard Dinnen - Queensland Editor |

Of the many regular events returning from pandemic interruptions around Queensland, none could be more keenly anticipated than the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF).

Artists, dancers, elders, families, and supporters have been working for months to be ready for the physical return of what has become Australia’s leading Indigenous art festival.

CIAF artistic director, Janina Harding, said the event is unique in the world, offering a strong experience of Indigenous art and culture.

Janina Harding

“Culture is so strong up here, and the artistic practice that people gravitate to, it’s incredible.

“People are so culturally in tune and grounded, they’re drawing on their culture and expressing it in a way that nobody else can.

“If you come here, you’re blessed. You won’t get to see anything like this anywhere in the world. It’s a very special place, this area of Australia.”

CIAF brings together artists, musicians, fashion designers, and representatives of Indigenous communities across north and far north Queensland.

The event began with Queensland Government support in 2009 and is now run by an independent not-for-profit company. Overall, CIAF generates economic activity of $6.3 million a year for Cairns and $5.9 milllion for Queensland.

CIAF rose above COVID-19, despite having no physical presence for the past two years. In 2020, its online event got 2.64 million views across 85 countries, and sales of $330,000.

Ku’ – Aurukun dog carvings are always a crowd favourite at CIAF

This year, CIAF has brought together 300 visual artists and 150 performers with events and exhibitions based at the Cairns Convention Centre and satellite venues across the city.

It’s Ms Harding’s final CIAF, after eight years in “the best job in Australia”. She said she’s proud of her team and the program they’ve put together.

“It’s like coming together for one big corroboree. Everybody comes from all over the state, interstate, just to be around the cultural vibrancy of it all.

Dancers at CIAF 2022 opening night (Paul Furse, Frontrow Foto)

“There’s lots of cultural dancing, you’ll get to talk to artists, it’s a catch-up time. No-one’s seen each other for two years, so that’s even more important.”

CIAF Chair, Tom Mosby, said the 2022 program brings together artistic, social, and cultural experiences, while also creating vital economic opportunities for Queensland artists.

“What CIAF does so well, through its association with art centres and local and commercial galleries, is provide an accessible platform for people to embrace Queensland’s distinctive Indigenous arts and cultural practice that would otherwise remain unknown.

“CIAF is able to present the arts and cultures from some of the most isolated communities of Cape York and the Torres Strait in one vibrant setting over five remarkable days.”

CIAF begins today with a symposium and launch party. Exhibitions and events continue until Sunday evening.