Regular random: five minutes with strange fruit

Close up shot of detail from installation entitled 'Strange Fruit (Revisited), Donna Sarten. Seen at Sculpture in the Gardens, Auckland Botanic Gardens, 2018. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Detail, Strange Fruit (Revisited), Donna Sarten. Seen at Sculpture in the Gardens, Auckland Botanic Gardens, 2018. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Strange Fruit (Revisited), by Auckland artist Donna Sarten, is currently being exhibited as part of Sculpture in the Gardens at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

Strange Fruit (Revisited), Donna Sarten. 4000 tags representing NZ's Vietnam servicemen hang from a tree in the Auckland Botanic Gardens. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Strange Fruit (Revisited), Donna Sarten. 4000 tags representing NZ’s Vietnam servicemen catch the breeze at the Auckland Botanic Gardens. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Strange Fruit (the title references Abel Meeropol’s song, famously sung by Billie Holiday), consists of almost 4000 military-style dog tags hanging from a tree. Each tag is engraved with the name of a New Zealander who served in the Vietnam War.

I’ve written about this artwork in more detail in Strange Fruit: remembering Vietnam, but it loses none of it’s power in being shown again in a new location. Indeed it encourages a whole new audience to engage with New Zealand’s military past.

Five Minutes of Random (the #RegularRandom challenge) is hosted by Desley Jane at Musings of a Frequently Flying Scientist.

If you’d like to join in:

  • choose a subject or a scene
  • spend five minutes photographing it – no more!
  • try to see it from many angles, look through something at it, change the light that’s hitting it
  • tag your post #regularrandom and ping back to Desley’s post
  • have fun!



48 thoughts on “Regular random: five minutes with strange fruit

  1. Interesting use of the title of Abe Meeropol’s song since it was about the lynchings of African-Americans in the US—where their bodies were hanged and left dangling on trees. I am not sure I understand the parallel here—do you?

    I don’t know if you know this, but Abe Meeropol and his wife adopted the orphaned sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg after the Rosenbergs were executed by the US government in the 1950s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know that. I didn’t know anything about him until I thought I should check who actually wrote Strange Fruit.
      I’m not really sure of how Donna connects the song with her work. I would have said that her title was more about convenience and familiarity, as she plays with the relationship between pomegranates and grenades, but I think she has mentioned the song too, so it’s not accidental.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The song has such a well-known meaning in the US—it was quite controversial when first recorded.

        I know the Meeropol/Rosenberg brothers so have heard quite a bit about the song and about their adoptive father. So the title of your post and of this work caught my attention.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I imagine it would have been controversial. It is one of the most haunting songs I know. And Billie Holiday’s voice was perfect for the song.
          I can’t comprehend what it would have been like to have both parents executed like that. I’ve never lived anywhere that has the death penalty for any crime.

          Liked by 1 person

          • The United States likes to say it’s the Greatest Nation On the Face of the Earth. It’s the biggest lie out there. Yes, we have lots of good things here, but the death penalty is just one of many ways that we remain a much more barbaric country than many others in the modern world. And the Rosenbergs were killed not for murdering someone, but for allegedly spying—a claim that at least regarding Ethel Rosenberg was based on very flimsy evidence.

            Liked by 1 person

          • NZ sells itself to the world as “Godzone” and “100% pure” yet we have rapidly growing economic and social inequality, appalling child poverty and levels of domestic violence, and many rivers, lakes and beaches are so polluted they aren’t safe to swim in. We used to have a good track record of standing up for what’s right — like declaring the country nuclear-free, and sending our navy to protest nuclear testing in the Pacific, but I think we’re lost our way a bit there too. 😕

            Liked by 1 person

          • How sad to hear. But somehow I bet things are better there than here—no gun violence, no death penalty, no government mired in idiocy and corruption, no “leader” who is a racist, sexist, and pathological liar!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t realised that New Zealanders fought in Vietnam either, nor Aussies! I always associated the foreign country in the war was just the US. Been watching a very sobering programme about the war on TV over the last couple of months. What a tragedy. I was quite young when it started so only really got to know about it in the latter years, but when you realise how many people died in all these wars you have to ask yourself WHY do they still happen? Do we not learn from history?

    Great installation. Hope it makes people think. Hard.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Australia and NZ were bound by a treaty with the US to send troops I think, and I suspect our politicians used our relative proximity to South East Asia as an excuse to go to war there.
      I remember anti-war protests here, or at least I remember my parents talking about the “hippies” protesting, and I have vague memories of watching news footage of the helicopters taking off from the US Embassy roof (?) in Saigon. But none of it made much sense to me (I’m not sure that’s changed).
      I guess there is too much money to be made from wars, and too many old men who have to risk nothing when they cause them. Tragic and stupid.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is lovely Su. I haven’t seen this before, nor did I know the song Your photos are beautiful, I love the depth in some and the human interaction in others. The installation itself is just so powerful. I’ve read through the comments. If the song was originally in tribute to African-Americans lynched and left dangling in trees (how awful) then I guess the connection is in the hanging from trees. And I’m very surprised that people didn’t realize that ANZs fought in the Vietnam war!
    Excellent post Su.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Sarah. Donna’s work is always very “user-friendly”. She and her partner have made some amazing installations that capture the imagination (empty lunch boxes hanging in a tree, thousands of spoons stuck in the ground). They focus on issues like child poverty, homelessness and mental health issues. Amazing people. xxxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I only recently heard the song, Strange Fruit, so I was somewhat concerned to think of an artistic installation appropriating the title and making it mean something other than the darkest characteristics of the human experience than the song reflects. But lives lost for the purportedly ‘noble’ cause of war are still lives lost. And without the veneer of some great cause, or civil revolution, or other flag-waving misplaced patriotism to glorify it, those lives are equally strange fruit indeed.

    On a separate note, I had not known that New Zealand fought in Vietnam. I wonder if the war was equally contentious and fomented a shift of politics there as it did here in the states? (I was born mid-way through the war so have no personal experience. Other than a first sergeant once asked me, “When were you born, private?” Upon hearing my reply, he got this funny look on his face and said, “When you were born, I was slogging through the jungles of Vietnam.” He never said another word and I’ve never forgotten the mixed emotions his expressions conveyed without saying a thing beyond that sentence.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this really thoughtful comment. I can understand your discomfort in the appropriation of the song title.
      The Vietnam War was contentious here too. Probably less than in the US, because we sent a relatively small number of personnel, but the politics were as hotly debated and very widely protested here. And, as with veterans from other countries, ours were ignored and sometimes reviled. Those men still carry the psychological scars.

      Liked by 1 person

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