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




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.

John Vea (b. 1985 ) is an Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) based artist who works with sculpture, video and performance art. Vea works with tropes of migration and gentrification that exist within Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). By enacting stories that have been collected through everyday interactions with people, both in his home community and abroad, with a journalistic sensibility he offers a sometimes humorous and always powerfully symbolic emic viewpoint to the Western meta narrative. Most recently Vea has exhibited in the Honolulu Biennale (2017), the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (2018) and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (2018). His work is also in the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. Vea received his Master of Art and Design at Auckland University of Technology in 2015, where he is currently undertaking his practice led Ph.D.

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.


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