Portrait

A catch-up at an art fair with producer Hooi Ping Angela Flynn. By Claire G. Coleman.

Producer Hooi Ping Angela Flynn

Hooi Ping Flynn is better known in the arts industry by her middle name, Angela. But we are friends, and her friends call her Ping.

We catch up at an Aboriginal art fair while she takes a break from helping her big sister buy art. It’s her sister’s first art fair and the piece she has bought is so stunning I am jealous.

I consider Ping a friend but, like many of my friends, we only see each other when we stumble into art spaces at the same time. It has happened in at least four capital cities. She is on the phone doing business when we almost collide. She tells me she’s heading north towards Country the next morning.

It’s noisy inside the art fair – where hundreds of people are spending thousands of dollars – so we sneak into the fair’s Indigenous-staffed cafe. There is nowhere to sit other than on a giant ottoman covered with fabric designed by an Aboriginal artist. There, in conspiratorially close proximity, we manage to yarn.

It’s still noisy in the cafe, the hard walls and tables reflecting the sound. It’s also, in a feat of bad planning, one of the entrances to the greater space, so multitudes pass us as we talk. But it’s good to sit, to catch a breather.

Ping is Tiwi (from the Tiwi Islands off the coast of the Northern Territory), Larrakia (the traditional owners of the Darwin area) and Chinese. She tells me “it’s good being half Chinese and half Aboriginal” and that it was nice learning both cultures while growing up.

There’s a narrow stretch of sea between Darwin and Tiwi and a ferry makes the crossing, in both directions, only three days each week. In my experience, the crossing can be rough, with the waves and the wind throwing the ferry about like a toy. Tourists often stumble into traditional owners, who tend to have better balance, as they make their way home.

Getting to the community where Ping’s grandfather was the traditional owner takes even longer. She says, “You catch the dinghy across the strait, which is really quick; then it’s like a 40-minute drive.” Ping describes the roads as “graded, corrugated tracks”. The trip to Penang, where her mother was born, would take even longer.

Ping, who runs Kukuni Arts, is an “arts producer, producing independent dancers, First Nations dancers”. She also produces Indigenous arts festivals and performance arts with a Badu (Torres Strait Islander) man. She says the best thing is “working with artists and seeing amazing work and being at the beginning of the creation of new work”.

The work she does as an Aboriginal producer is important. She says, “You can’t have a non-Aboriginal organisation with just some Aboriginal actors and an Aboriginal story – that does not maketh an Aboriginal work. It needs to be Aboriginal-led.”

Ping does not practise art, except for “the Chinese dancing I did at Chinese school when I was a kid. Or the special dances, like Tiwi dances, that I learnt when I was growing up.”

We have many things in common besides our Aboriginality: a penchant for cooking shows and a love of nonfiction and of trying to mentally collect and understand information that other people might find useless. She made me laugh when she said, “As my older sisters say, and you can paraphrase me, I like to know the ins and outs of a pig’s arse.” This is a commitment to which I can relate. She also “used to read encyclopaedias when I was growing up”. I thought I was the only one who did that.

We each have things to do and she has family to see before her flight. We hug, we turn our backs and go.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 24, 2019 as "Two worlds provide". Subscribe here.

Claire G. Coleman
is a Noongar author whose debut novel Terra Nullius has been long-listed for the 2018 Stella Prize.