In 2016, a men’s art therapy group was founded at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Three years later, the group has flung itself onto the international stage at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN as the artist collective the “Tennant Creek Brio”. Initially spearheaded by Joseph Jungarayi Williams—then working at Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation—and Rupert Betheras—an artist and ex-professional AFL player from Collingwood—the collective brings together a cross-cultural formation of five northern and central desert language groups (Warumungu, Warlmunpa, Warlpiri, Kaytetye and Alyawarr) and a painter from Melbourne. Together, they celebrate a creole of artistic traditions, some inherited, others improvised. At Tennant Creek’s cultural crossroad, the Brio’s members—Fabian Brown Japaljarri, Marcus Camphoo Kemarre, Jimmy Frank Jnr Jupurrula, Lindsay Nelson Jakamarra, Clifford Thompson Japaljarri, Williams and Betheras—command bewildering aesthetic power in a strategy of healing and resistance to cultural alienation.
Within Warumungu country, such resistance is not without precedent. Warumungu warriors led a successful counterattack upon early white invaders, forcing the first European explorer in the region, John McDouall Stuart, to abandon his 1860 expedition and retreat two-thousand kilometres back to Adelaide. In 1862, Stuart would return to complete his quest, paving the way for the Overland Telegraph Line that tentacled the country into the grip of the British Empire, linking Adelaide to Darwin and Australia to Britain. In Warumungu language, telegraphic technology would come to be called Watilikki. Aptly, the same word is used to describe nerve tendons and their network of neurotransmitters, a spider’s web, and also the path of the ancestral snake that sculpted in its wake the shape of the sky. Through the symbolic order of these communication lines, the Tennant Creek Brio renegotiate the ideological and social relations of the so-called peripheries and centres of contemporary cultural exchange.