Climate change was front and centre at this year’s digital Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) as artists meditated on the intersection between culture and climate.

CIAF featured 421 works by over 50 Queensland Indigenous artists and organisations with the event’s largest prize, the $15,000 Premier’s Award, taken home by Clinton Naina for his work Stolen Climate.

Judges Bruce Johnson McLean, Carly Lane, and Judy Watson deliberated over Zoom on Monday to choose winners for the $50,000 dollar prize pot.

Stolen Climate is comprised of four separate panels and was described by the judging panel as a beautiful expression of visceral grief and pain that sits heavily in both the artist and the collective unconscious.

“This installation is very strong and would work well in its own space, allowing the viewer to meditate on the imagery and the deeply felt emotions imparted by the artist,” the judges said.

The black and red panels feature silhouettes of natural materials, accompanied by a short poem rejecting the term ‘climate change’, and drawing connections between the oppression of Indigenous people and the destruction of the natural environment.

Clinton Naina’s four panel installation was described by judges as a beautiful expression of a visceral grief. Photo supplied by CIAF.

“My climate has been stolen and looted. Not changed, but short changed. Robbed, murdered and killed. Hunted, tortured and contained…”

“I can’t see, can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t touch, can’t move, can’t walk, can’t live. I can’t breathe!!!” the poem reads.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk presented the award, and reaffirmed the State Government’s support for CIAF.

The Cairns Regional Council Art Centre Award went to Erub Arts for their ghost net works; a sculptural installation that repurposes discarded fishing nets, or ‘ghost gear’, to draw attention to the destruction of marine environments.

The installation was created collaboratively at Erub Arts by Lynnette Griffiths and Marion Gaemers. Creating art with ghost gear is a form used globally to attempt to create something meaningful out of the destructive waste of abandoned fishing gear.

Erub Arts, a community art centre on the Torres Strait’s Erub (Darnley Island), has been creating ghost gear art since 2011. Griffiths said activism is built into her art practice.

“The conservation of oceans is quite invisible. It doesn’t have the visibility of land conservation, so creating an art form that has a visibility is really important to the conservation message.”

“By using that material and deconstructing it, you’re touching it and feeling another life, but you’re creating something out of it that has a very different meaning,” Griffiths said.

Artists Marion Gaemers and Lynnette Griffiths worked collaboratively with the arts centre to create the works. Photo supplied by CIAF.

The $10,000 Holding Redlich Innovation Award was presented to Paula Savage for her work Coral Bleaching. It was praised by the judges as “pure genius”.

The $5,000 Ports North 3D Design, Sculpture and Installation Award was taken home by Toby Cedar for Beizam Tirig, a five-piece installation that highlighted the importance of unity with the forces of nature.

Agnes Wotton of Palm Island won the $5,000 Fibre Optics NQ People’s Choice Award for her piece Sea Anemone.

The judges praised the quality of work submitted and spoke about the importance of culture in the era of coronavirus.

“The sensitivity, respect and passion for creative expression, sharing culture and for our individual and collective stories is a testament to our love and commitment to family, Country and culture,” the judges said.

“In this year—one which has brought many of us great pain and uncertainty—it is important to regroup and reconnect with culture, stand tall and maintain. Always was, always will be.”

CIAF celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2019. In the years since its establishment, it has generated $7.6 million in art sales and received 320,000 visitors.

By Sarah Smit