NATSIAA 2016 – Exciting Times for Indigenous Art in Darwin

Ian Plunkett looks back at the NATSIAA 2016 Art Awards and associated Aboriginal art events in Darwin.

NATSIAA 2016 Aboriginal Art award presentations

I’m just back from Darwin Art Fair and it was great. It was one of the best Art Fairs for quite a few years.The Telstra Art Awards, or NATSIAA, were of a particularly high standard this year. They seem to be treating it more as a major event than they have in the past. They had the actual presentations, bands playing, big announcements and a big build up to the final announcement of the winner.  Harold Thomas won the major prize and this was well received.

The standard of work this year was outstanding right through the show. There’s some pieces there that you would die for. They were exceptional.

I went to the Aboriginal art centre Darwin Art Fair as well. This is down near the Darwin Wharf in the big convention centre there. That’s where most of the Art Centres from around Australia get together. They have little stalls to show their art and products including fabrics and fashion and sculptures. They were doing quite well this year with a good range work on show. There was a pretty positive feeling about it all during the three days.

2 NATSIAA display in MAGNT

They had events there with dancers and singers and performances. It had a real buzz to it. It was great. If you are at the Darwin Festival there’s also exhibition openings all around Darwin and Parap and places like Outstation Gallery and Nomad. There was even a big Tiwi Islands show on at one of the major hotels. They not only had enormous space for showing all the barks and all the crosshatching paintings, but it was a brilliant opening. They had about eight women singers from the community who sang up the opening. It was just fantastic.

I love Darwin anyway, but at this time of year the temperature’s perfect. It was about 33C every day. The evenings get down to about 20C, but it’s nice and still. The town just fills up with like-minded people who are there to see the art and meet the artists and experience the Fair and all that it has to offer. It’s an incredibly buzzing time to be there.

Someone asked me if I came away with a wish list.  So much of the art I saw I would love to have to display here in the gallery. I’m thinking of some of the works from the Telstra Art Awards, and even in the Salon des Refusés.

3 Darwin Art Fair 2016

The Salon was a very strong show and this year it was held out at Charles Darwin University. It was a little bit further out of town, but still had a wonderful feeling. These are the works that didn’t get picked for Testra Art Awards. It just shows you the standard and quality of Indigenous art in this country if those works didn’t get picked. You can see why, when the Telstra Award itself is so strong. The ones that missed out are equally as strong. There were some cracking paintings in there.

There’s an incredible buzz in Darwin at this time. You see people enjoying themselves, attending shows and running around all over the place. You could fill every minute of every day and see something new all the time. It’s not often you can do that anywhere in Australia, let alone Darwin.

It is such a positive sign for the future. I’m sure people are very aware, a lot of the elders have passed now. We’re in a transitional period where the baton’s been handed on to the next generation. For a while there was some concern that some of the younger people weren’t as interested, or as involved as previous generations. It is clear that this is not the case.

4 Tiwi Islands Art performance

There’s some exciting young artists coming through, and they’re not just working in traditional media. They’re doing digital interpretations of Indigenous culture as well. It just gives you a really great hope for the future because you can see the direction it’s going. It looks like it’s in really good hands.

That’s what I got a real sense of. Indigenous culture was on show, and its strength is incredible.  That’s the good thing about the Darwin Art Awards. It brings so many communities together. There were well over one hundred communities represented there. They all get together and share stories and reinforce each other. It’s a really positive sign for the future.

For those who are wondering what’s going to happen next, I can’t be sure. What I can say for certain is that it will be pretty exciting.

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