National Artist for Sculpture Dr. Abdulmari Asia Imao

It took a while for the Philippine nation to name him “national artist,” and understandably  so because Filipino that he is, his nation is first of all the Bangsa Moro, that smaller older nation within our nation of nations.

If truth be told, and credit be given where it is due, then we all must reach out to Imao today because he first reached out to us through the years. Who is Imao? Did he ink a peace pact, as Ramos and Misuari did, or Sultan Qudarat and many others before PNoy and Murad?

No, Abdulmari Asia Imao did not ink an agreement but multi-coloured and sculpted and photographed and researched and articulated and carved and etched the truth and the beauty of our land and peoples. Creating large-scale sculptures and monuments of Muslim and regional heroes and leaders in selected sites from Batanes to Tawi-tawi, he developed among cultural groups the trust and confidence necessary for peace making and the building of a more just society.

Through his works, the indigenous ukkilsarimanok and nagamotifs were popularized and instilled in the consciousness of the Filipino nation and other peoples as original Filipino creations.

One could probably say that Imao was not always this way – marked by  the Sarimanok or the fish, or a combination of both and adorned with elaborate okir patterns and designs. He first went the route of the University of the Philippines and studied under the masters Guillermo Tolentino and Napoleon Abueva who honed his skills in sculpture, metal casting, photography and painting, Then he moved on to the University of Kansas for his masteral degree in sculpture and travelled through the Americas and Europe for a few more years before returning to his country determined to master Moro culture and arts.

Patiently and deliberately, Imao observed and learned from the Maranaos and T’Bolis while teaching them modern bronze casting techniques. Then he became so skilled in fusing Islamic art, design and culture with the techniques of the West to make unmistakable Eastern Islamic works. The overall result of his journey is unique – a unity of the best in the Moro nation and the Westernized (Christian) Filipino.

Today we are often told that “peace is the key to development.”  Imao’s life and work tell us that throbbing indigenous art is one secret of peace. The instruments of war are stilled with the creation of art and the consequent discovery of the human soul. In this way, it can be said that Imao belongs to a league of artists who integrate art in daily life. They are peaceable though brave and become natural peace-makers.

He recalled in one of his writings, “Once I caught a fish I was so fascinated about—its shape, scales, pigment and its glossy snout. I brought it home but as soon as the aroma of cooking drifting from the kitchen skewered my nostrils, fat tears ran down my cheek. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, and Mother had to comfort me all night long.”

Meet Imao. His works will be on exhibit in “Harimao the Sarimanok Flight.” Go with him and be still. The experience can be an encounter with your own soul. FINIS

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