Record number of Indigenous artists showcased in this year’s Sydney Contemporary

Fleur Connick

Cover image: Zan Wimberley


Sydney Contemporary art fair is renowned as being one of the most anticipated and celebrated cultural events in Australia. 


In celebration and acknowledgement of the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages, there are 19 galleries this year exhibiting work by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, which is considerably higher in comparison to previous years. 


Additionally, Deutsche Bank—a principal partner of Sydney Contemporary—chose to showcase ‘Mapping Memory’, curated by Sharni Jones, an Indigenous woman from the Kabi Kabi and Waka Waka Nations, in the VIP lounge.


“It’s both an honour and a privilege to be the first Aboriginal whose artwork was acquired by Deutsche Bank for the Australian art collection,” said Jones. “Mapping memory is the concept of mapping intergenerational memory. Intergenerational memory is often associated with trauma and genocide, compelling amidst the enduring colonial onslaught of local and global histories.”


‘Winners are Grinners’ by Alex Seton (credit: Zan Wimberley)


The Year of Indigenous Languages was initiated in 2019 by the United Nations to raise awareness of the repercussions of loss of Indigenous languages, with the objective to establish reconciliation and peace, and restore connection between languages.


Tim Etchells, founder of Sydney Contemporary, described how the galleries have really ‘upped-the-ante’ this year: “It is definitely the best fair to date. It looks stunning, the galleries have really invested into the fair and the artworks. This is very much a world class art fair.”


Etchells emphasised his pride towards the growth of the art fair, announcing that last year Sydney Contemporary made $21 million in sales and predicted that this year they were expecting over $25 million.


“I’m proud because this week will be the most concentrated week of art sales in Australia this year,” said Etchells.


‘Filters II’ by Consuelo Cavaniglia (credit: Fleur Connick)


According to the Australia Council of Arts, the latest reports show Indigenous artworks are a major contributor to the arts economy and generated $53 million in art sales between 20082012. 


Fair Director, Barry Keldoulis, has witnessed the collectors’ growing interest towards Indigenous art and a genuine resurgence in the market. At last year’s Sydney Contemporary, a John Mawurndjul bark painting was bought at a record price of $140,000. “The engagement is deepening, domestically and internationally, perhaps because of an ongoing improvement in the wider population’s appreciation and respect for the indigenous cultures. Many of the leading Australian contemporary art galleries have a substantial percentage of Indigenous artists within their stable,” said Keldoulis. 


Sydney Contemporary will be open to the public from September 12th15th at Carriageworks. This year is already being regarded as Sydney Contemporary’s largest collection of diverse artworks from more than 450 artists from over 34 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, South Africa, and many more.


High ceilings, exposed brick and steel, and walls of glass beside concrete, the Victorian industrial site is an attraction itself. Walking through the former 1888 Eveleigh Carriage Workshops building, you’re struck by its grand scale. Many of the installations are site specific and change with the time and weather. 


‘Align in Silence’ by Antonia Mrljak Curatorial (credit: Zan Wimberley)


“We know most fairs are held in boring conventional centers but Carriageworks is a magnificent marriage of Victorian industrial construction and contemporary theatrical and architectural interventions,” said Keldoulis. Your senses are overwhelmed by the bright and colourful artworks, juxtaposed against the dull industrial backdrop. The artwork on display ranges from playful and experimental to thought-provoking and confronting. 


Highlighted programs include Talk Contemporary, Installation Contemporary, Performance Contemporary, and Kid Contemporary. For an unmissable bird’s-eye view of the art fair, it is recommended to climb the ‘Tower of Power’ by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro.


Alongside more than 90 galleries on display, there are curated sectors for installation, video art, and performance. Additionally, the program includes engaging panel discussions, guided tours, and educational workshops.


Some of the galleries which support and are exhibiting Indigenous art include Black Square Arts, Coogee Art Gallery, Alcaston gallery, Apy Gallery, and Whaling Road Studio. The investment and display of Indigenous artwork in national art fairs, such as Sydney Contemporary, is vital in raising awareness and respect for First Nation peoples’ culture and artistic practice.


‘Suspension Painting’ by Gregory Hodge (credit: Fleur Connick)


Sydney Contemporary 2019 has a vast array of talent from new and old artists. Some highlights include the contemporary installations such as Gregory Hodge’s ‘Suspension Painting’ and Consuelo Cavaniglia’s ‘Filters II’. Artists such as Tiger Yaltangki, James Drinkwater, Sam Field, Patrick Hall, Hannah Quinlivan, Amanda Davies, Clara Adolphs, and Barbara Davidson all come to mind when I attempt to narrow down some of my own personal favourites. 


Immersing yourself in this year’s Sydney Contemporary art fair is an experience that I guarantee you won’t regret.


For more information about Sydney Contemporary and their program, see their website