Online art fairs have been a game changer for Indigenous art. Here’s how to buy it | indigenous art


Ihe three years have been difficult for many Aboriginal arts centers in Australia. As the pandemic unfolded and the Northern Territory – where many are located – implemented strict border closures, things looked bleak for regional and remote art makers who rely heavily on tourism.

But thanks to a quick online pivot, what could have been a crisis turned into something of a boom.

“We couldn’t travel between states and all tourism stopped – but we were amazed at how quickly art galleries and art fairs went online,” says coordinator Ruth McMillan. art from Tangentyere Artists in Alice Springs. “For us, the online art fair was fantastic. That meant the revenue didn’t stop for the artists.

One of them was the Tarnanthi Art Fair; The Art Gallery of South Australia’s annual event debuted as an online-only fair in 2021, following a hybrid 2020. consumers. “We sold works in Asia and America, and other centers sold in Europe,” says McMillan. “We sold work to the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates. We have sold a lot of work to overseas expats and embassies. It was an unexpected surprise.

Every dollar from Tarnanthi’s sales goes directly to art creators or art centers, with buyers rest assured that all artwork is made and sold ethically. At last year’s event, which took place over three days in October, Tarnanthi sold a record $1.4 million worth of work, from around 50 arts centers and independent artists. , which is approximately 16% more than previous in-person events.

Woman with Cooloman (2022) by Trudy Inkamala of Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, $1,650; Pandanus Earrings (2022) by Freida Pettersson of Marrawuddi Arts & Culture, $135; Colorful New Ways Bag (2022) by various artists from Anindilyakwa Arts, $190. Composition: Tarnanthi Art Fair

Building on this success, the 2022 Tarnanthi (pronounced tar-nan-dee) art fair, which opens today, will once again be fully online: an accessible showcase of paintings, ceramics, sculptures, woven objects, jewelry , textiles, clothing and homewares from Aboriginal arts centers and artists in South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Victoria and Queensland.

Jill Daniels' Rodeo (2022).  Seen from above, a crowd watches a figure on a horse
Jill Daniels’ Rodeo (2022), acrylic paint on linen, 80cm x 80cm, $1640. Photo: Ngukurr Arts Aboriginal Corporation

The fair will also feature a series of lectures, online workshops with artists and language tutorials in Kaurna, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara – some of which will later be available online.

“For us, it’s a pretty standout model,” McMillan said. “Online there are no real costs to us, and all the money goes to the arts center.”

Cheryl McMillan holds up a T-shirt with a drawing of four-wheel drive and the words Bush Car take you anywhere
Ewyenper Atwatye’s Cheryl McMillan in her Bush Car t-shirt. Photography: Tangentyere Artists

Aboriginal arts centers are often located in the heart of a remote community. They provide studio space, art materials and technical support to artists; some also offer breakfast and lunch, as well as a space to chat. Money that returns to the centers can be shared among the artists or the wider community, or used to subsidize nutrition, literacy and numeracy support programs, after-school care and vacations. , or training and employment. And all help artists sell their work ethically through galleries and art fairs, and ensure that First Nations artists are paid for their work.

“Tangentyere” translates to coming or working together: while many arts centers only cater to one or two language groups, “we have people from a dozen or more different locations and language groups who work together on a daily basis,” says McMillan. “People have come from all over the central desert and have to negotiate a shared space.”

The center is known for its “true history” figurative paintings, which document both ancient customs and contemporary life in urban encampments. Every day at Tangentière is different. A morning bus picks up the artists from the city camps, which surround Alice Springs, and the artists have a quick breakfast before getting started. Work ends at 3 p.m., after lunch, as many are “nannas” with multiple family responsibilities.

The particular vulnerabilities of regional and remote indigenous communities to Covid-19 have been highlighted at Tangentyere. Some of his artists need dialysis treatment. The centre’s oldest artist turned 80 this year. The youngest is 18 years old.

Two women seated at a table covered with plastic paint cans.  A canvas is in front of Sally, on the left
Sally M Mulda of Tangentyere Artists and Marlene Rubuntja of Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, together in Tangentyere’s studio. Photography: Tangentyere Artists

Even though the NT borders have been closed until December 2021, artists and staff at Tangentyere have still adhered to safety protocols. Social distancing has been introduced, with artists using the studio on a roster and working 1.5m apart. The gallery was closed to the public, except on Saturdays when the artists were not there. Staff have also put together art kits – including paints or weaving materials – for artists to work from home. “Most people were happy with the borders closed, happy not to travel,” McMillan said. “It even became a subject of art.”

Tarnanthi Art Fair has been around since 2015. Its artistic director, Nici Cumpston, says the online fair will likely continue beyond 2022, although an in-person event is also planned.

“Nothing could be better than the personal experience of seeing art about the country it came from, but I think people are used to buying just about anything online now,” she says. In some ways, the pandemic has also been good for artists, she adds. “The closure of most art centers to the public meant it was a relatively quiet time for artists and they could really focus on their work.”

Without tourists to interact with them, the artists “had more free time, and a lot of them started to push the boundaries and come up with new ideas,” says Cumpston. “I’ve seen a real shift in creating artwork, but maybe it’s not that surprising – artists always make the best of a situation.”

How to Buy Tarnanthi Art Fair Artwork Online

Two women standing in the desert wearing bright printed skirts and blouses
Cotton Skirt by Walking in Dunjiba x Kaye Finn (2021), $215 Photography: Mel Henderson/Ku Arts

Between 5:00 p.m. on Friday October 14 and 9:00 p.m. on Monday October 17, the Tarnanthi Art Fair will be available on this site. You’ll find all the art centers scheduled in one place, which is helpful for those who may not know what’s out there.

The other important aspect for buyers is the confidence that each work is made and sold ethically, according to the code of indigenous art. No fees are incurred by the art centers to participate, every dollar from all sales goes directly to the artists/art centers, and you are buying directly from the artists as opposed to the secondary market like auctions, where the artists can only receive a 5% resale royalty.

Art centers are listed from AZ. Take your time to find out where the art was created in Australia, who created it, and read the story behind the artwork. Prices are clearly labeled, ranging from $40 tea towels to small paintings on canvas (about $150-$400) to large works, with prices ranging from about $1,200-$3,000-$10,000 at $15,000.

You don’t have to bid; go ahead and buy. You can search by type – for example painting, weaving, jewelry, T-shirts or sculptures – or search by budget or artist name or art center. The work will be sent to you directly from the art center (international shipping is extra).


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