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Three days, three events, for artists, arts workers and arts lovers. A total immersion in the artwork and stories of Aboriginal art from the desert! An Exhibition, Symposium, and MarketPlace. Araluen Arts Centre, Alice

Such an approach couldn’t be in greater contrast to the work coming out of the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art Culture Centre in Tennant Creek, the highway town some 500 kms north of Alice. From year to year at Desert Mob, different art centres make their mark doing something unlike anything else in the room, unlike anything you might have expected. This year it was Nyinkka Nyunyu’s turn.

The display is eloquent about their story, with Punishment Spears (carved by Jimmy Frank, at right in the photo above) and No. 7 Boomerangs (carved by Joseph Williams, also pictured) asserting the foundation in Warumungu identity and tradition of what the men are doing. They call the display Wanjjal Payinti – meaning past and present.

Either side of the artefacts are the untitled paintings of Marcus Camphoo, striking for their bold geometry and colour and, up close, for their way of laying paint on the linen. He’s a young artist but he knows what he’s doing.

Alongside are the works of Simon Wilson – two versions of a desert storm, conjuring swirls of wild dust-laden winds, one of them painted directly onto a shattered television flatscreen. They act, in the display, as a kind of bridge – a gritty, urban bridge – to the utterly distinctive figuration of Fabian Brown.

In his catalogue statement Brown says he likes travelling, mentioning other places he’s been to all over Australia, but it’s clear his mind and eye like to travel even further afield, with the influence of contemporary international visual cultures clearly evident in the work while thoroughly integrated with his own vision and identity.

In his commanding The Angel, the wings are iconic white, but the face glimpsed beneath its intriguing yellow headdress is black. The human-like figures in Mystical Animals have a comic book familiarity, but the battle that appears to have been waged between his giant dog- or wolf-like creatures is redolent of ancient epic stories. The Samurai Warrior, on which he was assisted by Clifford Thompson, is more straightforward in its reference, but accomplished very much in the Brown style – the insistent centrality of the subject, the graphic drawing, the vigorous painting.

At the symposium on Friday he came on stage with Joseph Williams and Jimmy Frank, all of them in white feather headdress, singing in language, clapping with boomerangs.  It was Williams and Frank who outlined the history and vision of Nyinkka Nyunyu. Brown spoke only briefly: “We respect our old ways,” he said, “but this is a new way of doing art.”

This new way has its roots in a well-being workshop for men that started in 2016 at Anyinginyi Health, with artist Rupert Betheras leading the art program. As Joseph Williams notes in his catalogue contribution, “it turned out to be big – exhibitions, catalogues and all.” And as Jimmy Frank noted at the symposium, we’ve heard “all the bad stories” about Tennant Creek, but these are “the good things” they are doing.