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Ningali Lawford-Wolf
, 1996 (printed 2016)

by Stuart Spence

type C photograph (sheet: 73.8 cm x 73.8 cm, image: 59.7 cm x 59.7 cm)

Ningali Lawford-Wolf (1967–2019), actress and dancer, was a Wangkatjungka woman. Born at Christmas Creek Station in the Kimberley, Lawford-Wolf was never professionally trained in acting but studied dance at the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre and later performed with Bangarra Dance Theatre. She had a successful career as a stage actress, touring her solo show Ningali (1994) internationally in 1995 and winning the Fringe First Award for best new production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that year. She also performed in stage productions for Belvoir Street Theatre, the Black Swan State Theatre Company and the Sydney Theatre Company. Her screen credits included starring roles in the films Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and Bran Nue Dae (2009); and in ABC television’s Mystery Road (2018). She was nominated for the AACTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Last Cab to Darwin (2015). Off screen Lawford-Wolf was involved in community work in Fitzroy Crossing, advocating on issues relating to education and employment for traditional owners and becoming a director of the Indigenous-owned Kimberley Agricultural and Pastoral Company.

This work is from a series by Stuart Spence in which his sitters were asked to interpret the theme of water. Faced with a selection of props for the shoot, Spence recalls that Lawford-Wolf ‘instantly gravitated to the fish, draping it delicately around her neck. She somehow made it look like it belonged there.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2016
Accession number: 2016.40