Tennant Creek Brio

We are the Living History

By Biennale of Sydney

22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

About the artists

Tennant Creek Brio
Formed 2016

Rupert Betheras

Born 1975 in Melbourne, Australia
Lives and works in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, and Melbourne Australia

Fabian Brown
Born 1968 in Alice Springs, Australia
Lives and works in Tennant Creek, Australia
Language group Kaytetye, Waramungu, Warlmunpa and Warlpiri

Marcus Camphoo
Born 1994 in Katherine, Australia
Lives and works in Tennant Creek, Australia
Language group Kaytetye

Jimmy Frank (Jupurrula)
Born 1981 in Alice Springs Australia
Lives and works in Tennant Creek, Australia
Language group Warumungu

Matthew Ladd
Born 1970 in Epenarra, Australia
Lives and works in Tennant Creek, Australia
Language group Alyawarr

Lindsay Nelson
Born 1974 in Ali Curung, Australia
Lives and works in Tennant Creek, Australia
Language group Warlpiri

Clifford Thompson
Born 1980 in Tennant Creek, Australia
Lives and works in Tennant Creek
Language group Kaytetye

Joseph Williams
Born 1978 in Darwin, Australia
Lives and works in Tennant Creek, Australia
Language group Warumungu

Simon Wilson
Born 1987 in Tennant Creek, Australia 
Lives and works in Tennant Creek
Language group Alyawarr and Kayetye

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

Tennant Creek Brio

The Italian word brio means mettle, fire, or vivacity of style or performance. It expresses the energetic, experimental and transformative spirit of the Tennant Creek Brio, whose collective work is a dynamic interplay of influences including Aboriginal desert traditions, abstract expressionism, action painting, found or junk art, street art and art activism. 

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

The Tennant Creek Brio is an artist collective based in the Barkly regional town of Tennant Creek (population 3,200) which is located in Warumungu country in the Northern Territory. 

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

The collective began in 2016 as an Aboriginal men’s art therapy program through Anyinginyi Aboriginal Health Organisation, to help men with issues of alcohol and substance misuse. Under the direction of artist Rupert Betheras and supported by fellow artists Fabian Brown and Joseph Williams, the collective quickly gained traction amongst local men.

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

It soon grew its core membership to include Marcus Camphoo, Simon Wilson, Lindsay Nelson and Clifford Thompson alongside occasional members and fellow travellers. By 2018, the art therapy program had moved out of Anyinginyi and under Nyinkka Nyunyu, the Tennant Creek’s art and culture centre, where the collective was joined by artist Jimmy Frank.

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

As a teenager, Williams learnt to carve from his grandfather, while Wilson also developed an interest in painting during his teens. Additionally, Betheras’ early teenage years were marked by Melbourne 1980s graffiti subculture. The artists share a rebellious streak and commitment to unsettling the status quo born from a shared experience of outsider status.

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

Each artist had been exposed to various traditional forms of cultural expression, i.e. sand, rock and body painting, along with canvas, print, TV, film, social media and religious and protest imagery before joining the Brio. The seeds of Brown’s iconic figurative style, for instance, were planted when he was young, producing sketches on the walls of his childhood dwellings. 

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

Working collectively, the artists are also challenged to reinvigorate their individual practices through exposure to new materials and mediums, and through new approaches that are collaborative and dialogical. No individual’s authorship necessarily takes priority over the others. At times one artist might finish the work of another through reimagining the intentions and possibilities of their art in the act of both making and presenting their work. 

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

The collective has developed a significant social and cultural voice reflecting on the rigours of life in a frontier town that remains marred by the ongoing impacts of colonisation and the unending struggle to maintain cultural identity. Some of the collective’s ‘found’ materials – such as disused metal, plan drawings from a nearby abandoned mine site, and disused poker machines potently feed into the force of this commentary and outsider status.

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

We are the Living History

"In We are the Living History, 'protagonists’ posture and pit their weapons and curses in counterpoint. Dismembering and remembering, the Brio expose trauma from various waves of intervention sweeping their lands...

... Missions, mining, cattle and control revealed in a horror genre, the drove of damage. Haunted by the ghosts of the old and new, a psalm of alchemy, ancestors, and redemptive truth-telling surfaces from the Brio, both cathartic and true." 

- Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre

Navigate through and explore the mixed-media artworks of the Tennant Creek Brio at Cockatoo Island.

We are the Living History Installation ImageBiennale of Sydney

Want to learn more? Go on a NIRIN Social Tour and explore the works at Cockatoo Island and Artspace; learn more about the artistic practice of the Brio in this article by Art Guide Australia; create your own mixed-media artwork in this NIRIN at Home activity inspired by the artists; or discover the second installation Gangsters of Art at Artspace.

Credits: Story

We Are the Living History, 2020 
mixed media installation 
Presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney with generous support from the Australia Council for the Arts, and generous assistance from Fondation Opale 
Courtesy the artists and Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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