Exhibition

John Vea: If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back?

A small cement brick wall projected with a video still of a man holding a concrete block over his shoulders while he faces the ocean. Three concrete blocks are stacked at his feet on the sand.

When

25 October -
15 December 2019

Location

John Vea’s Australian debut examines the complex labour flow throughout our region. Continuing his exploration of Pacific migrant workers his practice is anchored by his signature wit that challenges viewers to consider the equality and validity of a global workforce.

Vea’s practice has been defined by a journalist-like investigation into how workers from Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) have been co-opted as labour for both Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. Anchored by a series of talanoa (conversations) Vea’s work prefaces the voice and lived experience of the migrant worker employed within dominant and authoritative social structures. These discussions inform how Vea scaffolds his practice and locates his work as a means to examine the overlooked and the underrepresented.

In the contemporary globalised era migrant labour has emerged as a key indicator of regional socio-economic relationships.  Labourers from Moana Nui a Kiwa have been subordinated by both Australia and New Zealand to support both agricultural production and urban development. Specific schemes such as Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) in New Zealand grants season migrant workers temporary entry to plant, harvest and pack crops in exchanged for minimum wage. On completion of the designated work they are immediately returned home; their contributions to the success and prosperity of New Zealand’s economy barely noticed or acknowledged. Vea uses polices such as the RSE as a basis from which to work, his crafted responses are sometimes humorous but always compelling counterpoints to dominant perspectives and the status quo.

If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back? is John Vea’s first comprehensive international solo exhibition presenting recent significant works alongside a new commission from 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. This commission will be developed as a reflection of a year-long research project into the history of 4A’s locale in Haymarket, Sydney. As a site for trade and exchange on the banks of the harbor, the area now known as Haymarket has played an important role for the communities that have resided here for centuries.

If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back? includes new performance and installation works commissioned by Performance Space and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

Artists

A white flag hanging off a brick wall. The flag reads, 'She sows this Aina with her younger siblings, yet she cannot inherit that same aina.'
A lunch room with yellow walls, white plastic dining furniture and three posters of palm trees on a beach stuck on the walls.
Tinned cans of corned beef, coconut cream and mackerel, a packet of breakfast crackers, a big tin of International Roast instant coffee and coffee cups on a white plastic fold-out table.
White plastic dining furniture against a yellow painted wall stuck with two posters of palm trees on beaches. One of the posters is printed with a quote from Teresia Teaiwa which reads, 'We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood.'
Two walls of stacked cardboard boxes labelled 'UMU' but 'SEASONAL SMALL WORKER' in diagonal blue text above. On the right is a white gallery wall with four printed photos, one of which is an open box of oranges.
A long wall of stacked cardboard boxes printed with 'UMU' and 'SEASONAL SMALL WORKER' in blue text. Four boxes are stacked on a hardwood floor, flaps open with oranges stored inside. In the corner is a small cement brick wall projected with a video of waves coming in on a beach.
A small cement brick wall projected with a video still of a man holding a concrete block over his shoulders while he faces the ocean. Three concrete blocks are stacked at his feet on the sand.
Five television screens on a gallery wall, each showing a shirtless man of Pacific Islander heritage. He is wearing cut-off denim shorts and sneakers, while carrying a large rock against an industrial backdrop
A large wrapped wall of stacked cardboard boxes labelled 'UMU' and 'Seasonal Small Worker' in blue text. On the floor are four stacked cardboard boxes with oranges inside. Behind them is a wall projected with greyscale stills of open land.
A close-up of oranges with purple stickers. One of the stickers reads, 'Visa Lahi Taha Mahila E 7 $17.70 HE HOUA'
  

Top image: John Vea, 29.09.09 Tribute to Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, 2013, video; photo: Kai Wasikowski for 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, courtesy the artist.