Growing up, Peter Cooley loved nothing more than to sit with others and watch the local Aboriginal artists and craftsmen at work in his La Perouse neighborhood, the men who made wood carvings and the women who made intricate shell art that they would later sell. to enthusiastic art buyers. It was a tradition that started in the 1960s and created what Cooley calls ‘a huge Aboriginal tourist destination’, which continued into the 1980s.
“I was fascinated,” says Cooley, a proud Bidjigal man. “But then it died out to the point where, if you drive around La Perouse [now]you wouldn’t even know there was a large Aboriginal community there.”
So Cooley decided to do something about it.
In 2012, when he co-founded First Hand Solutions, a small non-profit organization that exists to improve the lives of Aboriginal people through culture, employment, training and economic development, Cooley’s first mission was to reinvent La Perouse’s cultural tourism. to breathe life into. † First Hand Solutions did that by establishing the Blak Markets, a mainstream Aboriginal market supporting small arts, crafts and tourism businesses that started in 2014 with 11 companies. It has now grown to 80, from regular market days on La Perouse’s Bare Island to quarterly markets held at The Rocks Markets.
In 2017, they added a market at Barangaroo Headland, which includes 11 remote Aboriginal arts centers. It was so successful that they decided to go bigger again. This year they are organizing the third National Indigenous Art Fair [NIAF] in the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay, which sells no fewer than 22 remote and regional Aboriginal arts centers alongside the exhibitors of Blak Markets paintings, sculptures, jewelry, fashion, traditional arts and crafts, textiles and woven products ranging from $50 to $10,000.
“We have art fairs in Darwin, Cairns, Adelaide, Alice Springs, but the largest city in Australia with the largest market has no art fair. So we decided to create one and called it the National Indigenous Art Fair,” said Cooley pamphlet†
The 2019 event attracted 15,000 people who bought art from 35 art centers, generating sales of more than $600,000. This year’s event features some of the best art centers in the country, including Ikuntji Artists in Haasts Bluff Northern Territory, Ngwarle Untye Art in Merriwa, Western Australia and the Tjanpi Desert Weavers from Alice Springs.
The fair offers the opportunity not only to buy in an ethical national marketplace, where all proceeds go directly to the artists and First Nations communities, but also to meet the creators.
“Usually the artists are just sitting in the community doing their work, they have no idea where it’s going or what’s going on with it,” Cooley says. At the NIAF, the artists not only meet their clients but also have professional development opportunities, with visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of NSW and Artbank, giving them insight into where their art is going and how it is being used and perceived.
“Being able to bring 20 to 30 remote arts centers is something very important and makes a big difference to those communities, by excluding the middle people so the centers benefit from higher income,” Cooley says, noting note that 2020 and 2021 have been incredibly difficult years for the remote centers, which often struggle to even access the internet, let alone set up online galleries.
“Most of these performers are seeing the bright lights of Sydney for the first time. We see performers just staring out the window at the Sydney Opera House because they’ve only seen it online.”
The fair offers much more than just art, with two days of indigenous culture including live performances by singers Mi-kaisha and the Djinama Yilaga Choir and performances by Wagana Dancers. There will be dance and craft workshops for children, storytelling in the sand circle, a community weaving project and bush food cooking demonstrations from native chef Matthew Atkins.
On Saturday, Dwayne Bannon-Harrison of Mirritya Mundya catering (the name means “hungry blackfish” in the Ngarrigu language group of South East Australia) will be making myrtle black fish, a vegetarian sweet potato dish and other dishes.
“It’s about sharing culture and stories, coming together and passing on traditional knowledge to our people,” Cooley says. “But for the wider community, it’s education, sharing culture.”
The fair marks the start of Naidoc week and also hosts a panel on this year’s Naidoc theme: Get Up, Stand Up, Show Up. Traditional owners, Aboriginal leaders and artists discuss issues affecting their communities, from fracking to the leadership role of the choir mail after the Lismore floods.
Welcome to Country online marketplace – which promotes First Nations products and experiences – also offers two tours with the fair’s curator and creative director, Lyndsay Urquhart. She leads a tour of the fair and provides insight into the artists, art centers and exhibitors. And a VIP sunset tour of the fair includes an interactive bush food cooking demonstration, with cocktails and canapés.
The National Indigenous Art Fair will take place from July 2 to 3 at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks. Entry is by donation of gold coins, which goes to First Hand Solutions’ Aboriginal youth program.