Pacific Woman Leader: Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi

Iokapeta and her team

By Gail Brown.

For the next blog in the Pacific Women Leaders series I with Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi, or Ioka as she’s called, uses her hands to create art, and uses her heart to connect with her Pacific ancestry.  As the Learning and Outreach Manager for the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki, everyone on Ioka’s team are all practicing artists who design and deliver meaningful learning experiences for gallery visitors. These programs bring different people and their cultures together to celebrate our common human experience through art.

“Art is about telling stories – it’s about connecting people,” Ioka tells me as we stroll through New Zealand’s first permanent art gallery founded in 1888.

As manager of five art educators, Ioka enjoys being part of a team that focus on quality learning experiences between art and people based on art education practice in museums and galleries.

Mrs. Brown with Iokapeta at the Gallery's Members Lounge
Mrs. Brown with Iokapeta at the Gallery’s Members Lounge

In 2013, she started at the gallery as a part-time project co-ordinator for an outreach pilot program with Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Middle School in Otara. The outreach program has now blossomed as a fully funded program with a full-time art educator for outreach activities. There are a total of 4 art educators under Ioka’s management. The Learning and Outreach program team engages educational and underrepresented audiences in Auckland including tertiary, high school, primary schools, early childhood education including te kohanga reo and vulnerable communities like corrections groups and new migrants and refugees. The gallery works in close collaboration with the community before going into schools, festivals and vulnerable communities. This allows the gallery to share knowledge of their art collection with those who otherwise would face barriers.

Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Art Gallery is Auckland’s primary art museum and has a collection of more than 16,000 artworks, which includes Māori and Pacific art. The most renowned works are a collection of Maori portraits painted by artist Gottfried Lindauer from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The gorgeous, larger-than-life portraits depicting Māori life in a bygone era are a must-see for all visitors.

“Oceania people have thousands of years of history,” explains Ioka.  “New Zealand art is Oceania.  That is our strength.  That is what people come to see and I want people to fully understand they are part of this story. The work is for them.  It’s about them.”

Mrs. Brown with Ioka on a tour of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o tamaki
Mrs. Brown with Ioka on a tour of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o tamaki

Her passion for connecting with Moana Oceania communities was acknowledged in 2018 when she was offered a scholarship for an International Coach Federation program ‘Rise 2025’ founded by coach Rachel Petero, who was also a New Zealand trustee for the World Indigenous Business Forum 2018.

“I’ve always loved art, for as long as I can remember,” Ioka said. “As a teenager I used to visit this gallery on my own.”

Born in Auckland in 1971, Ioka is of Samoan heritage with her parents migrating in the 1950s and 1960s to New Zealand, where they met and married. It was in Auckland, where her father Magele Mose, from Lufilufi, Upolu met her mother; Fa’ataualofa Magele (nee Siulepa) from Sātalo, Faleali’i. She and her seven siblings were all born in New Zealand and are still closely connected with both sides of their extended family in Samoa and abroad.

Ioka completed her undergraduate degree at Whitecliffe Art School and then freelanced as a graphic artist in various diverse projects from print illustration, set design to calligraphy on pottery.  In 2009, she completed her Master in Arts Management degree where she gained an interest in the Auckland GLAM sector – Galleries, Libraries and Museums.

“I have to use my hands to create,” she insists and often misses the making side of art due to the administration involved in her role. She is passionate about craft and is currently completing a course in lead lighting and stained glass at Uxbridge Art Centre in Howick, Auckland.

Both Ioka and her husband Saulo have a love for their community of Ōtara; a predominantly Māori and Pacific community and spend lots of quality time with their family rescue dog, ‘Vanya’ who also has an Instagram handle @Vanyavibez.

Iokapeta and Vanya - Miss August 2017
Iokapeta and Vanya – Miss August 2017

Ioka proudly shows off a picture of her fur-baby in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) calendar 2017 – where Vanya was Miss August! Ioka has been a supporter of the SPCA for three years and participates in charity dog walks to help fundraise for the non-profit animal welfare group.

Through her role, she will continue to represent Pacifica women in leadership and advocate for Pacific audiences at Auckland Art Gallery.

For more information about Auckland Art Gallery see: