My favourite work at APT7 was an installation by Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi that included different explorations of the lalava (lashing), a traditional Pan-Pacific technique for binding materials together and used in making buildings, canoes and tools. The lalava traditionally consists of lengths of coloured sennit (cordage made from plaiting strands of dried grasses and/or coconut fibre) are wound around materials creating intricate geometric patterns that serve functional, decorative, and cultural purposes.
Tohi’s installation at GOMA consisted of systematic investigations of lalava using a range of non-traditional materials which served to illuminate different aspects and qualities of the technique.
There were 2- and 3-D works in coloured wool on panels and around suspended cylinders. The use of contrasting wool, called Haukalasi, to create the different patterns emphasised the geometry and rhythm of lalava. Using strips of timber (Haupapa) in the lalava patterns creates sculptural forms that reveal the depth and layering, and drawings and graphic diagrams (which I didn’t photograph) show the back view of the lalavas, again demonstrating Tohi’s deep understanding and revealing something which is not usually seen.
Tohi also creates solid versions in metal (Haukamea), stone (Ta Maka), solid wood forms (Hau Puha) which were not included in this exhibition.
I was drawn to the colour and geometry of this installation, and spent time enjoying the systematic and methodical aspect of the explorations, and the great generosity demonstrated by revealing, explaining and sharing these works. Filipe Tohi was recently bestowed the title of Sopolemalama, or ‘Bringer of Light’ by the Samoan Head of State. I can understand why. The works delight at the most superficial level, reveal much to scrutiny, and I’m sure there are deeper levels.
You can hear Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi speak about his work in a radio interview here