muragudal-majid-captionPrior to the annual Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), there is a flurry of activity as local artists prepare to make a splash amidst the hundreds of artists represented and vying for attention. Last month's event was no different. Local online gallery owner Kane Brown responded to the organiser's call for colour and brightness by teaming up with senior artist Arone Meeks. 

Early this year, five local artists were assembled into workshops  - male and female, Torres Strait islanders and mainlanders - to produce colour monoprints, with Meeks as guiding mentor.

"In North Queensland, most of the linoprints have been done on black-and-white up until recently," explained Kane Brown of  Sun Dance Gallery. The workshops became "an expansion on the existing print network" and a way to bring the artists into producing "something a bit different, brighter and more colourful". 

Brown felt that with such a wide field of artists and their agents descending on Cairns for the three-day CIAF festival, the local talent might slip under the radar.

"The focus of the CIAF tends to be more about the art centres and the big commercial galleries down south," he told Telinga Media. "So alot of the time, the local artists miss out on this opportunity."

According to Meeks, the chosen theme 'The Big Wet' (Kuki Au Thonar), allowed artists to tell traditional stories or just portray aspects of the wet season, like the flushing of the rivers and creeks.

"Because we're all from this part of Australia where we only have the two seasons, which is the big wet and the big dry, it has a major impact," Meeks said. "So everyone can relate to it. And everyone had a little story to tell about it." 

redclaw-foster-captionIslanders Glen Mackie, Billy Missi, Justin Majid and Sharon Phineasa and Kuranda artist Brooke Foster were given a chance to move out of their comfort zone and experiment with colour. 

The resulting prints toured Melbourne in May where they were shown at Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi. Next was to prepare an exhibition for last month's art fair by transferring what was learnt in the print workshops to hand-painted canvases.

"Kane came to us with the idea of putting it onto canvas. And we experimented with it a bit more, just trying to see if we could get the same effects on canvas," said Brooke Foster. "And I think it turned out very well."

Visitors can judge for themselves by viewing the canvases at the Reef Hotel Casino, which in addition to Brooke's Barron River Flooding series and Justin's rabbit fish (Parasa) and mullet fish (Muragudal) paintings, include several works by Billy Missi.

Apart from these showcased individual pieces, Meeks tested a new approach with his versatile students, one they can use back in their own communities or when working with other artists.

"We could actually create one piece of work where there were five people working on that one piece," he said. "It wasn't cluttered and it worked beautifully. That's the nature of true collaboration." (see main image: The Big Wet 2012)

And for Meeks, joint creations are no artistic gimmick. 

"Within Aboriginal culture, it's always been that way where the main story keepers will delegate certain areas of a story to certain members and in fact, they will only be able to paint certain portions of that story," he explains. 

"When you have an elder who's doing a large painting that tells the whole story, you have a collective of artists who are collaborating on the one piece. So it's a traditional thing as well."


The exhibition The Big Wet can be viewed in the main foyer and lobby of the Reef Hotel Casino, Cairns until 31st October


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