Filipe was born in Ngeleâ€˜ia, Nukuâ€˜alofa, Tonga, and immigrated to New Zealand in 1978. His contemporary paintings and sculptures are imbued with his Pacific island heritage. The incorporated Pacific and Maori iconography in his work goes deeper than the immediate visual reaction. Filipe is a master craftsman of the traditional art of lalava - the Pan-Pacific technology used on houses, canoes, and tools before the introduction of Western materials. He has studied the construction of lalava to understand the patterns and language hidden inside
During a 2004 project for the Samoan Head of State, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese, Filipe lashed a Fale Maota at Nofoâ€›aliâ€›i near Apia with a theme of the intertwined history of Tonga and Samoa.Â Tamasese bestowed the title Sopolemalama (bringer of light) in appreciation for his efforts. Filipe's art brings attention to the fine designs and precision of lashing paying homage to his predecessors yet he integrates a contemporary twist whether through the designs, forms, or layering material which might be sennit, colored wool, or even made two-dimensional with paint on canvas. While he has used sennit or kafa in its traditional sense at the Pasifika Fale at the Pacific Studies Department at the University of Auckland, he also lashes individual objects transforming technology of the past into a modern representation of identity and experience.
He believes lalava patterns represent a life philosophy. For him, lalava patterns advocate balance in daily living and are metaphorical and physical ties to cultural knowledge: "I have identified a visual language within the lalava that was not only used by our ancestors for voyaging, but it communicated principles of cultural knowledge and history. For me the sennit patterns of the Pacific convey our memories and experiences as well as carry us from place to place." The line-space intersection of lalava produces elaborate and complex geometric designs of an abstract nature. Within the abstract designs lalava holds important implications on the social, philosophical, astrological, navigational, epistemological, ontological, and ecological levels. By deciphering the existing designs, Filipe unlocks visual histories recorded by Tonga's earlier Tufunga Lalava. His sculptures reflect a pan-Polynesian aesthetic that he sees as a means of fostering understanding between cultures.Â His work speaks not only of his homeland of Tonga, but the experiences of migrating and living in New Zealand. He works with a wide variety of media from wood, stone, and wool to industrial materials such as steel and perspex. Filipe uses natural media to represent the past and steel as a contemporary component: "For me, stainless steel represents the shiny new structures in the modern world. Wood is based more in tradition - in natural things from our environment."
Filipe has worked on an international level since carving his first commission for the New Zealand Embassy in Saudi Arabia in 1987. Two years later, he held his first solo exhibition at the Govett Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Filipe instructed many students during his years at Rangimarie Arts and Crafts Centre and was a founding member of the Te Kupenga in New Plymouth.Â He has been a full time artist since 1990 and has participated in numerous exhibitions around the world including the UK, Lithuania, France, Germany, USA, and Japan. Filipe has major public sculptures in New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Japan, and China.