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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Ningali Lawford-Wolf, 1996 (printed 2016)

Stuart Spence

type C photograph on paper (frame: 98.5 cm x 97.0 cm, 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
Gift of the artist 2016
© Stuart Spence

Accession number: 2016.40

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Stuart Spence (age 36 in 1996)

Ningali Lawford-Wolf (age 29 in 1996)

Subject professions

Performing arts

Related portraits

1. Russell Crowe, 1995 (printed 2016). All Stuart Spence.

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

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Ningali Lawford-Wolf, 1996 (printed 2016) Stuart Spence
Ningali Lawford-Wolf, 1996 (printed 2016) Stuart Spence
Ningali Lawford-Wolf, 1996 (printed 2016) Stuart Spence
Ningali Lawford-Wolf, 1996 (printed 2016) Stuart Spence

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Magazine article by June Oscar AO, 2017

June Oscar AO lauds three iconic Aboriginal figures in the Portrait Gallery collection who have inspired and influenced her.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.