Kuku Yalanji and Wakaman singer-songwriter Jess Mauboy was moved to tears when asked to be community ambassador for this year’s Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in August.

The annual fair showcases the contemporary First Nations art, design and creativity of more than 2,000 emerging and established artists from 70 art centres.

Mauboy said she feels a particular connection having grown up in Darwin on Larrakia Country where the fair is held.

The opportunity to represent initiatives affording young mob the opportunity to pursue their goals in creative spaces is as humbling as it is exciting for her.

The popstar said she felt like a cheerleader for the artists involved, compelled to encourage them to do it for their mob and where they come from.

“I’ve heard word that they (the artists) are fans of me but I’m more fans of them having witnessed what they’ve created and how far they’ve come,” Mauboy said.

“When I think of DAAFF and when I think of the community and what they’ve been able to achieve and the platforms they’ve been able to create I am just in awe.”

Mauboy said pathways were building for Indigenous artists, performers and producers looking to make their way and facing the challenges of leaving home, networking and pursuing the right avenues.

“Sometimes when you’re so young and you have all these opportunities you can go left or you can go right,” Ms Mauboy said.

“There is a lot happening, it’s just knowing where all that is coming from and knowing if it’s right for you.

The arts fair slots into the larger calendar of events organised by DAAF’s umbrella foundation.

DAAFF artistic director Shilo McNamee said the beauty of the organisation was its ethos of supporting grassroots industries like those at the art fair, and providing the platform for a growing interest in the art being produced.

The fair’s decision to go online in recent years has helped build an appetite from international markets. In 2021 DAAFF provided over 3 million in sales to First Nations artists and art centres.

“All of the money generated by DAAFF goes back to community, goes back to artists,” McNamee said.

“We’re finding new avenues for expansion.

“There’s just so much more room to keep growing and making people aware of who we are and what our foundation does”

McNamee said the return of an in-person fair in 2022 is excitedly anticipated by all involved to work in tandem with the digital space.

Shadeene wear pieces from The BOONKAJ collection by Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, Country to Couture, 2021.
image: James Giles

DAAFF’s initiatives spreads to Sydney Fashion Week, a key organiser in the Indigenous Fashion Projects Runway bringing First Nations designers to larger audience.

Mauboy’s role as an ambassador will see her perform at the IFP runway event before turning attention to the art fair later in the year.

She said list of events does a lot for all involved

“It helps celebrate that rich culture,” she said.
“It’s come such a long way.
“We’re seeing a lot more of it.
“It’s pretty deadly what I’ve seen so far.”

The DAAF kicks off August 5 while the IFP at Australian Fashion week runs Tuesday May 10 in Sydney.