by Nina Fitzgerald and Ellie Meyer


Image: Selina Nadjowh printing her design ‘Dilly Bags and Bush Foods’. Photo courtesy of Injalak Arts.

NIFA | Special Recognition Award

In the lead up to the inaugural NIFAs, we’ll be delving into each of the six award categories, and introducing you to some of the amazingly talented nominees. Next up, the Special Recognition Award, for a group, organisation, or individual that has shown exceptional contribution to the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander textiles and fashion.


From pioneering techniques and celebrating 50 years of innovative creative practice, through to shaping a new fashion landscape and paving the way for future generations, The Special Recognition Award creates a space to further celebrate First Nations excellence and pay respect to the people who have paved the way for future Indigenous designers. 

Sharing cultural knowledge and expertise, these nominees have each had a significant impact in their field of work; they are artists, designers, innovators, mentors, leaders and change-makers.

Through bold and vibrant creative practice approaches to their work , these individuals have gone on to create opportunities for First Nations people in fashion and textiles, inspiring many to follow in their footsteps and make their own mark on the industry. 

This year’s panel of judges will be considering each nominee based on: demonstrable contribution to development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait textiles and fashion, culture advancement and expression, mentorship, leadership, long term contribution, and innovation. The prize for this category is $10,000 thanks to the generous support of the Northern Territory Government!

“It is wonderful to celebrate and promote positive, ethical and respectful collaborations through these awards. Collaboration and co-design are concepts that are so much in line with culturally led practice and ways of working. The examples some of these projects set about how we can best work together, should be seen as inspiration for work beyond the fashion sector. I hope these works inspire more collaboration and partnership into the future.”

Ursula Raymond
Deputy Treaty Commissioner for the Northern Territory
NIFA 2020 Judge



The prize for this category is $10,000 thanks to the generous support of the Northern Territory Government.


Special Recognition Nominees


Bede Tungutalum

Bede Tungutalum grew up at a time when his society faced great changes to their lives. His work has been a prominent feature of the Australian art scene for 50 years, bookended by enormous achievements starting in 1970 when Bede and Giovanni Tipungwuti created the iconic Tiwi fabric label Tiwi Design. Among the initial small group of young Tiwi men trained in traditional techniques, Bede Tungutalum has been at the vanguard of printmaking on the Tiwi Islands, contributing to a distinctive contemporary Tiwi idiom of visual expression. Never to follow others, Bede walks to the beat of his own drum, pioneering with his silk screen print designs. Preferring to innovate rather than simply resume past practice, he has a new artistic approach that blends the old and the new worlds, making thorough use of new technology, while still identifying within a Tiwi framework. 

A mentor and leader, he has been recognised through a number of exhibitions and awards, has been part of workshops and as an artist-in-residence at a number of universities in Australia. Many Tiwi artists have followed in the footsteps of Bede Tungutalum, and the success of Tiwi Design has provided an inspiration to others, leading to the establishment of printing enterprises in many other remote communities.

Lenore Dembski for Paperbark Woman

Lenore Dembski is a proud Aboriginal woman hailing from Darwin, who has been designing and making clothes since 1968. Her designs are inspired by nature through the colours, types of fabrics and adornments used in the clothing. Clothes are designed for women, men and children of all sizes and for many different events from casual to formal and haute couture. Lenore was driven to start promoting Aboriginal textiles after seeing the stunning fabrics produced by many remote Northern Territory artists in the early 1990s. Her work has been included in fashion events and parades, including Melbourne Fashion Festival 1996, Australian Fashion Week 1997 and 1998, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, as well as in national museums and galleries, such as the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney as part of the current Baygal Collection. Lenore also mentors individual and community groups, who aspire to work in the fashion industry.

Perina Drummond for JIRA MODELS

For over a decade Perina has been a significant contributor to Indigenous fashion, first as a model, then behind the scenes as a stylist and event curator. In 2017 she self funded the launch of Jira Models, based on her experience in the industry, her strong cultural connections and her desire to inspire Indigenous communities around Australia to engage in fashion. An adaptive innovative business that aims to meet the needs of young models through support,  understanding and respect, the agency bears the name of her great great grandmother Nara Jira Para from Wuthathi country.  Perina is deeply committed to the health and well being of Indigenous communities and advocates for fashion to engage with employment and learning opportunities. Her leadership has been critical in defining the space for contemporary Indigenous fashion and is helping shape its long term future. She regards the agency as a pathway for many who may go on to sign with larger agencies here or internationally.

Grace Lillian Lee

Grace Lillian Lee explores her diverse cultural heritage through fashion and adornment, working directly with Indigenous communities to create beautifully crafted works of wearable art, activated through body and movement. Her neckpieces, made with cotton tape, coral and beads, are woven using traditional Torres Strait Island techniques. 

“My practice is based on the methodology of preservation. I am heavily involved in this process of reflecting on the past and my identity. I use my practice as that vehicle for me to connect and learn more about my Torres Strait Island Heritage.”

Grace is a leader in the First Nations fashion and design world, has had numerous exhibitions and has presented & produced fashion performances at CIAF, Country to Couture, the Commonwealth Games, and Nurlanthi Adelaide. Combining culture, fashion, art, light, set design and music, Grace’s work includes supporting Indigenous models, designers, artists, set designers, dancers and musicians. Grace is now working on her First Nations fashion and design project with UTS, and is the founder of First Nations Fashion and Design.

Selina Nadjowh for Injalak Arts

Coming from a family of artists, Selina Nadjowh is a multi-talented weaver, painter, fabric designer and printer, whose textile work spans over a decade. Through innovative designs, Selina continues an ancient painting tradition passed on for thousands of years, from rock art to stunning wearable creations depicting her dreamings. Designs include Manme (bush foods), Kuluban (fruit bats), Nawaran (Oenpelli Python story) and Dilly bags. Her work has reached an international audience including exhibitions, fashion shows and as products worn by many. Selina is an expert screen printer and senior workshop manager at Injalak Arts, where she has trained younger women and encouraged many more to enter the field of Indigenous textiles production and design. Selina has also developed a series of women’s knowledge of survival and creation stories that can be shared alongside her designs, furthering the cultural education of a wide ranging audience.



This year’s winner will be announced during the inaugural National Indigenous Fashion Awards (aka NIFA), and broadcast LIVE through the NITV social channels on 5 August! 

To stay updated, be sure to follow @indigenousfashionprojects on Instagram and sign up to the DAAFF newsletter. 


Image Credits

  • Selina Nadjowh working on her most recent design, Dilly bags and Bush Foods, Photo courtesy of Injalak Arts & Crafts.
  • Perina Drummond working on set. Photo courtesy of Jira Models. Photo courtesy of Perina Drummond.
  • Bede Tungutalum. Photo by Bill Hawker.
  • Lenore Dembski. Photo via Paperbark.woman Instagram.
  • Grace Lillian Lee, Photo courtesy of Grace Lillian Lee.
  • Blog Banner Image | Selina Nadjowh printing her design ‘Dilly Bags and Bush Foods’. Photo courtesy of Injalak Arts.
  • Sharna, June, Toni and Chanel . Photo credit Ingrid Johanson. Nominated for the Community Collaboration Award.