Please Explain: who is picking the fruit?

4A’s series Please Explain invites presenters to rethink, recharge and reimagine contemporary issues through the arts and academia. In this edition of Please Explain, as part of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art exhibition John Vea: If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back? speakers discuss the realities and unrepresented stories in contemporary globalised era migrant labour, which emerged as a key indicator of regional socio-economic relationships between Australia, New Zealand and many Pacific nations.

Taking the words of Australian deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack – who echoed the title of Vea’s exhibition when he came under fire for claiming the Pacific Islands will survive climate change because their workers come here to “pick our fruit”, following the August 2019 Pacific Island Forum in Tuvalu – as a starting point, this discussion will question such preconceptions about temporary migrant labour, and discuss the lived experience of the migrant worker.

Framed by Vea’s 2015 text The Emic Avenue; art through Talanoa and the concept of talanoa (a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue) as research method, speakers Christine Afoa, Malaemie Fruean, Leo Tanoi  and John Vea, with moderator Micheal Do, will discuss the stories, experiences and representations of Pacific migrant workers and the role art and storytelling can play in reframing and challenging the ideas of equality and validity of a global workforce.

Moderator: Micheal Do, 4A Assistant Curator and John Vea: If I pick your fruit, will you put mine back? curator with Dr Mikala Tai.


Christine Afoa is a Samoan-Australian writer born and raised in the Bankstown area. She is undertaking a creative writing degree at the University of Technology. Christine has performed poetry for SoFar Sounds Lounge and Bankstown Poetry Slam and her short stories have been published in UTS Writers’ Anthology 2018: Light Borrowers, 2019: Infinite Threads and Sweatshop Women: Volume One. Christine is a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.

Malaemie Fruean is Chair, NSW Council for Pacific Communities. Established in 2003, the organisation was established to create opportunities and lend support to Pacific Communities in New South Wales, Fruean has led the organisation since its inception. Prior to this Fruean worked in community, cultural development for over two decades with experience as an educator and community liaison and leader.

Leo Tanoi is a creative producer specialising in Pacific contemporary arts practice. With over two decades of experience, Tanoi has held a number of roles and worked with artists including Greg Semu, Shigeyuki Kihara, Angela Tiatia and Michel Tufferey. From 2010 – 2015, Tanoi was the Creative Producer, Pacific Programs at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. In this time, he developed a number of projects including ‘Body Pacifica’ (2010) which won the Museums & Galleries NSW’s Imagine Award for Best Exhibition and Public Engagement Program. Prior to this, Tanoi contributed to ‘Edge of Elsewhere’ as a community and cultural advisor on ‘Edge of Elsewhere’ (2010 – 2012), 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and Campbelltown Arts Centre. Tanoi currently is a freelance Creative Producer in the arts & culture sector and has been a peer assessor for Create NSW from 2016-2019. He is also an aspiring visual artist.

John Vea 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.

Listen to a recording of the event below:

4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art · Please Explain: Who is picking the fruit?