An institute for critical education in the South Pacific

A ʻAtenisi picture

Inducted fellows with Dr Helu and Hon PM Sevele (2009)

Apr. 2017 – Tongan-Kiwi artist reinvents lalava as language of traditional Polynesian wisdom

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On the evening of 25 April in Lolo Masi Hall, acclaimed Tongan-Kiwi sculptor Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi demonstrated the approach to traditional Polynesian mythology and technique that he's deployed in his 40-year career. Born in Tonga in 1959, Tohi migrated to New Zealand in 1978, and has since exhibited in France and Germany, as well as in the Cooks and throughout New Zealand. The Art Almanac of the Asia-Pacific once called him “Tongan art’s foremost ambassador”.

His initial sculpture was in wood and stone. But more recently he’s sculpted in steel and aluminium in work that interprets lalava – the traditional coconut sennit lashing that, for example, bound the beams of a fale before the introduction of Western tools.

In the past lalava was art as well as construction: intricate patterns were designed using different coloured cords. In Tohi’s sculpture, they become historical language, reminding Polynesians of traditional achievement, wisdom, and outlook.

After his presentation, Tohi was pleased to learn that, despite ‘Atenisi’s concise curriculum, the University recently offered a course in the sociology of European painting since the 15th century, team taught by sociologist Dr Michael Horowitz and Tongan artist Harri Hapa.