In the language of the Kaurna people of Adelaide Plains, tarnanthi (pronounced tar-nan-dee) means ‘to come forth or appear – like the sun and the emergence of first light’.

The Tarnanthi Art Fair, part of the Art Gallery of South Australia’s annual celebration of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, embodies exactly that, presenting the cutting edge of contemporary First Nations art from across the country and providing an energised platform for artists to share important stories.

This year the art fair returns as an online event, for obvious reasons, making browsing and buying art more accessible than ever. Thousands of works from around 1400 artists and more than 50 art centres across the country will be available to a global audience from Friday October 15 to Monday October 18.

“We normally have the art fair as a live event where the artists and the art centre managers travel from their communities to Adelaide to sell and display their artworks,” says Nici Cumpston, artistic director of Tarnanthi and curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

“Because of the pandemic, however, we didn’t want to risk artists not being able to travel to Adelaide and sell and display their work, so moving to a digital platform was the best option. [It] allows buyers to spend more time viewing items from wherever they are in the world.”

The digital platform hosts cultural stories through works that combine traditional techniques with contemporary practice, including paintings, sculptures, woven objects, jewellery, textiles and homewares. Buyers can journey from the islands at the Top End through to the expanses of the Central and Western Desert, and from the rainforests of Far North Queensland to Australia’s southern coastline.

The Tarnanthi Art Fair operates under the Indigenous Art Code and supports the ethical production and sales of works of art by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. With prices ranging from $100 to $15,000, and every dollar from every sale going directly to the artists and their art centres, buyers can rest assured knowing their purchase is delivering economic benefits directly to communities.

Cumpston, a Barkandji woman from the Barka (the Darling River) in far west New South Wales, says that while art plays an integral role in the economic sustainability of First Nations communities, it isn’t the only advantage. “Art is not just about the sale and exposure; it’s also about having an opportunity to express yourself,” she tells Broadsheet.

“Creativity is such an important part of who we are as humans, and as First Nations people. The artistic process is empowering and provides many artists with a form of acceptance. Having the opportunity to make work that enables artists to work through ideas strengthens their mental health, enriches their spirit, and provides artists with a way to process their adversity.”

While the Indigenous Art Code sets the standard for the ethical purchasing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Cumpston says it’s important at times to dig a little deeper. “Ask questions when buying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and do a bit of research on the art centre and gallery you are purchasing from to ensure they have a relationship with the artist. Each work of art should have a Certificate of Authenticity that goes along with the purchase of artwork. These measures assist in ensuring the art has come from the right place.”

The Tarnanthi Art Fair runs online from 5pm Friday October 15 to 9pm Monday October 18. To access the online Tarnanthi Art Fair and learn more about this year’s art centres, visit agsa.sa.gov.au/tarnanthiartfair.

The wider Tarnanthi festival opens tomorrow, featuring the work of more than 1400 artists in exhibitions at AGSA and venues across South Australia from October 15 to January 30.

tarnanthiartfair.com.au