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Photo Banner By Jyllan Bitalac.

A Life Without Borders: Exploring Abdulmari Imao's legacy of Filipino art

Witness the beauty of Philippine artistry as the Center for Campus Art’s newest exhibition honors the exceptional talents of National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Imao.

By Nicholas Marquez | Tuesday, 13 June 2023

Bridging the realms of art and history, the exhibition “A Life Without Borders: Abdulmari Imao, National Artist for Visual Arts” dives deeper into how cultural narratives can be translated creatively into tangible forms. The event formally opened on June 8 at the 12th floor Gallery of the Design and Arts Campus (DAC), featuring a range of works from Abdulmari Imao’s remarkable collection.


Curated by CCA Director Ar. Gerry Torres, the exhibition showcases 28 paintings that draw inspiration from ancient Islamic and Hindu motifs of the okir, naga, and sarimanok—reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the Sulu archipelago and the hometown of Moro artist Abdulmari Imao. There is an assemblage of 38 sculptures that highlight his intricate wood carving and signature brass casting techniques. 


Stemming from indigenous traditions and folklore, the curated pieces represent the unique cultures of the Mindanao region—specifically the Maranao and Tausug ethnic groups. An array of drawings and sketches are displayed for the viewers to better understand his artmaking process.


Staying true to one’s roots

To formally begin the program, Ar. Torres gave his welcoming speech as he expressed his curiosity and desire to know the life and works of Imao. Fascinated by his creativity, what impressed him was the esteemed artist’s prowess as a painter and sculptor, and his method of integrating culture into various art styles.


“I chose Imao because I wanted to learn more about his art, to shed light and understanding, and share the knowledge to our students on the culture and heritage of the Maranaos and Tausugs as a creative source.”


In an exclusive interview with The Benildean, Ar. Torres shared that he aspired for the exhibition to help Benildeans foster respect and appreciation for Philippine cultural diversity. 


“My reason for putting up shows about National Artists is because I want Filipinos to know more about them and be aware of the immense contributions they have made, especially nowadays where sometimes we are not proud enough of our country. We compare ourselves to our neighbors [other countries] who are more prosperous. It's good to be reminded that we also have treasures in our history."


Next to give their opening remarks was Chancellor Benhur Ong, who shared the life story of Imao, such as the many achievements he had accumulated throughout his education and career. As the renowned artist once lived in poverty during his childhood, it was all due to his great enthusiasm and burning passion for the arts that led him to success by championing Philippine culture into his craft.


Also present during the opening program was Multimedia Visual Artist Toym Imao, son of the late National Artist. Given the opportunity to speak in front of the audience, he recounted the events that led to the launch of the exhibition. With the help of Ar. Torres, he and his family members took part in gathering and collecting the works of Abdulmari Imao made over the past decades. Honoring the life and works of his father, he told stories of how much Imao persevered in his academic endeavors. 


“Our father [speaking on behalf of his siblings] was really like a trailblazer. He was a strong individual, he would fight really hard to share his ideas as a teacher.”


Afterward, he publicly announced that the stage play Anak Datu will be making its return sometime between September to October 2023. Managed by Tanghalang Pilipino—the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)—its last run at the CCP Black Box Theater last year became successful. Directed by Chris Millado and written by Rody Vera, Anak Datu is a play with music based on the original story of the same name by the National Artist—portraying the historical realities of the Tausugs.


Branching out to prosperity

In an exclusive interview with The Benildean, Toyo Imao emphasized the importance of valuing one’s cultural identity as a way for Filipino artists to produce art that is authentic and impactful.


“You cannot separate the artist from the art form—they are inseparable. Art is a way of life. Sa kultura natin as Filipinos, we should take pride in that because it is a natural process of creating imagery that best represents a cultural group of our country. What my dad has done is he brought that cultural identity, that folk art, transformed it into something that can communicate and have a conversation in the contemporary world.”


Motivated by the craftsmanship of Abdulmari Imao, several students under the College's Architecture program produced scale models of high-rise buildings to be viewed at the exhibition. The works were created under the mentorship of Ar. Jim Caumeron.


“A Life Without Borders: Abdulmari Imao, National Artist for Visual Arts” is open Mondays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. until Sept. 8. The exhibit is available to all Benildean students, associates, and the general public.