Budding Indigenous artists are learning to more authentically connect to their cultural identity through art thanks to the Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art unit (CAIA) and an Arts Queensland First Nations Commissioning Fund grant.

Dr Carol McGregor is the Program Director of CAIA at Griffith University’s Queensland College of Art (QCA) and has been awarded $125,940 to deliver Past, Present, Future: CAIA community – a beginning conversation.

The two-year project comprises a major exhibition at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair featuring First Nations artists who participated in the Queensland College of Art Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art program, plus a community outreach program and $90,000 for an industry placement to create a career pathway for Indigenous curators.

CAIA Program Director, Dr Carol McGregor

Supported by Griffith University, QCA and the Griffith University Art Museum, the exhibition at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair represented a milestone in showcasing CAIA’s achievements and cultural impact, underscoring the importance of preserving and celebrating First Nations art and providing a platform for Indigenous artists to connect with the broader community.

Dr McGregor said the primary aim of the exhibition was to highlight an extraordinary community and the excellence developed in their practices, leadership, and cultural understandings.

“Receiving this grant is just the beginning for offering a more in-depth examination of the history and impact of CAIA,” she said.

“As soon as people heard we were doing an exhibition, people in our industry just went ‘yes, this is what’s needed’.

“Not only has the exhibition highlighted the success and diversity of CAIA, but also the mentorship and the community that still exists through alumni and past teachers and lecturers who return to give talks and build the community.”

CAIA was started almost 30 years ago and remains the only degree program of its kind in Australia.

Having developed a reputation along the way for cultivating the careers of some of Australia’s most successful contemporary artists who have exemplified the highest standards of achievement nationally and internationally, the program fosters hope, resilience, a sense of possibility and cultural pride in its students.

Dr McGregor has been with the program since 2007 and said the authenticity and integrity in teaching and supporting various art forms goes well beyond traditional art forms.

“Students engage with diverse mediums including dance, film, sculpture, jewellery-making, fashion and printmaking, creating a rich and vibrant artistic tapestry,” she said.

“Students examine their own Indigenous identity and histories, making artworks through different mediums and storytelling within their creative practices.

“Quite often, students come to us having been taught art in schools and know there’s something more, so we look at Indigenous ways of making, researching and connecting to Country and people through art practices.

“CAIA incorporates courses such as Identity and Back to Country where students travel back to Country with many having opportunities to be with Elders, exercise Indigenous protocols and make artworks responding to Country.”

The CAIA program has also been connecting with the Cherbourg Indigenous community and will be working with students from the Murgon State High School, running creative based skill-building workshops and exhibitions.

The team is also working towards creating a mural with the students and other people who want to get involved in art practices in consultation with local Elders in Cherbourg.

“It’s about reciprocity and giving back – sharing our knowledge and experiences with the next generation and supporting them in exploring their creative potential,” Dr McGregor said.

“It’s our way of building a strong community and nurturing Indigenous art and culture and it’s significant to be recognised by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and the First Nations Commissioning Fund grant.”

10: Reduced Inequalities
UN Sustainable Development Goals 10: Reduced Inequalities