Born and raised in Tonga, Filipe immigrated to New Zealand in 1978 and has been a full-time artist since 1992.
He lived in New Plymouth for over two decades and was one of the initiators of the biennial Taranaki Stone symposium, Te Kupenga.His sculptures are in many collections, such as Te Papa or the Auckland city art gallery, throughout Aotearoa | New Zealand and beyond.
A major aspect of his art practice is the Pacific art form of lalava (lashing), used as a means for joining and connecting materials since ancient times in the pacific region. Lalava is not only used traditionally for its functional use in building customary houses, sea-faring vessels and tools but it also incorporates a history of diverse patternings. These complex symmetrical lashings are also used to convey rich layerings of cultural information.
Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi translates, transposes and transmutes lalava forms and patterns, producing a variety of contemporary expressions varying from large public sculptures in stone and metal to precisely cut wooden sculptures, intricately lashed poles, or illusionistic drawings and paintings. In experimenting with scale and materials, he uses the lalava patterns as a mnemonic device. His title, Sopolemalama, was bestowed upon completion of the Fale Maota in Samoa during which he trained two Matais to help complete the fale.