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The Future is Digital

Nov 3, 2021


We’re revisiting some articles from this year’s Art Collector DAAF 2021 Special Edition. Here, Briony Downes explores the digital future …


In the face of another COVID-19 outbreak, DAAF went digital for another year. But with an exciting new partnership, a little innovation and a lot of hard work behind the scenes, this team was up for the technological challenge.


Words by Briony Downes, July 2021

When pandemic lockdowns began in 2020, Tjanpi Desert Weavers were quick to recognise the importance of staying connected online. Bringing together some of their master weavers, Tjanpi constructed Learn-To-Weave kits filled with written step by step instructions and the materials needed to make a simple woven basket. They sold out of kits almost immediately. Making more kits, the Art Centre went on to produce an accompanying online tutorial with artist Loria Heffernan, allowing viewers to tune in from anywhere in the world. 

With COVID-19 restrictions firmly in place throughout the middle of the year, The 2020 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) also moved exceptionally quickly to present its entire art fair, workshops, artist talks and public programming online. Audiences embraced the digital format and this enthusiasm was reflected in increased sales and web traffic for participating Art Centres. 

Taking this on board, the digital platform has remained a part of daily operations at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) and Art Centres across Australia – and became all the more important when a new COVID-19 outbreak in June forced the fair to adopt a digital model for the second year running.

After experiencing the digital offerings of the 2020 art fairs, Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre Manager, Kuku Yalanji/Mitakoodi woman Joann Russo, started thinking about how Girringun could expand its online presence on a daily basis.

“COVID happened, then the digital fairs happened. That was when we realised there is technology available that would allow us to do the same thing ourselves.” 

Subsequent funding from Arts Queensland allowed Girringun to purchase its own virtual reality filming equipment and facilitate training workshops with staff. These were conducted online from Arizona and Los Angeles with Brian Beebe from Southern AZ Virtual Tours and the result is Girringun’s new online gallery featuring a three-dimensional, virtual experience. 

“When we were learning how to use our virtual technology, we had our staff, artists, even a ranger coming in to learn,” says Russo.  

“We are hoping the equipment can be used at cultural sites and [artists] can film on Country. We want to show others there can be multiple uses in one technology.”

Expanding digital platforms on a broader scale, DAAFF gained a grant from The Ian Potter Foundation for a Digital Pivot Initiative. As Shilo McNamee, DAAFF artistic director explains: “Essentially there are three pillars to this initiative. The first is for Art Centres to build their capacity in the digital space, the second is to develop and launch a new digital platform and the third is to build international relationships.” 

To be rolled out nationally over several months, the foundations of DAAFF’s digital initiative were laid prior to the 2021 art fair with a series of online masterclasses – weaving with Injalak Arts and Numbulwar Numburindi Arts Weavers, and a watercolour landscape class with Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre. Using a model similar to the Tjanpi Desert Weavers in 2020, participants were able to pre-order kits filled with the materials they needed to be instructed remotely.

Image | Tjanpi Learn-to-Weave kits, courtesy of Tjanpi Desert Weavers. Banner Image | Browsing the 2020 digital DAAF, photo by Dylan Buckee.

As more online content is created for the DAAFF digital initiative, McNamee says the public will have access to artist talks and exhibitions, as well as extensive resources aimed at teachers and parents. “There will be interactive resources with info about Art Centres and regions around Australia,” she says. “It will give more context to the Art Centres and the important role they play. People can access it year-round, so this information is not limited to just the art fair.”

McNamee also draws attention to the positive impact the digital platform has had on artists and workshop leaders.

“In the follow up to DAAF 2020, artists said they found it really empowering to have more control over the teaching space. They really took ownership and were directing the participants. There’s a lot more power in being on Country and being able to instruct from a familiar place.”

This experience was also a catalyst for how workshops using natural materials are being presented digitally this year. “DAAF 2021 has stemmed from the success of last year’s online workshops,” says McNamee. “We are really educating audiences about where the artwork actually comes from, and the process involved in making it.”


This article originally appeared in the Art Collector 2021 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Special Edition, head here to read more.

Cover Art by Madeline Purdie, Boabs After the Fire. Natural earth pigments and synthetic fixative on canvas, 60 x 60cm. Courtesy of the artist and Warmun Arts.

Contributor Briony Downes studied Art History through Oxford University and Australian Aboriginal Art with Curtin University. She is based in Hobart.

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