Imao, PH sole Muslim National Artist, dies

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THE country lost its only Muslim National Artist with the death of Abdulmari Asia Imao on Tuesday. He was 78.

Despite differences and conflicts between his Bangsamoro land and the rest of the country, Imao tried to bridge the gap with his art in the last five decades.

For his sculptures, paintings, photos, films, writings and researches that advocated Mindanao art, including those of indigenous groups, Imao was awarded the highest artistic honor in the Philippines in 1996 when he became a National Artist for Visual Arts.

The website of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts credits Imao for having “popularized the indigenous ukkil, sarimanok and naga motifs [and]instilled [them]in the consciousness of the Filipino nation and other peoples as original Filipino creations.”


Ukkil is a Tausug term that means to carve. Carving is considered Mindanao’s most thriving industrial and decorative art. On the other hand, sarimanok is the legendary bird of the Maranaos.

But among the many forms of visual art in which he excelled, Imao was duly noted for his mastery of brass, which reputation spread throughout Southeast Asia.

Imao’s achievements in this field can be found in the website muslimmindanao.ph.

“With his expertise, Imao helped develop brass-casting technologies in other Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. In the country, he has assisted not only Maranao and Tausug brass workers but other groups as well, including the T’boli of southeastern Mindanao and the Cordillera groups of northern Luzon,” the website says.

Imao, a Sulu native, was brass-casting consultant of the United Nations Development Program and International Labor Organization.

Some of his most famous brass creations include the “Industry Brass Mural” (Philippine National Bank) and “Industrial Mural” (Central Bank of the Philippines) both in San Fernando, La Union, as well as the “Sulu Warriors” statues of Panglima Unaid and Captain Abdurahim Imao in Sulu Provincial Capitol.

Ever true to his artistic vision, Imao was last seen joining the Unitas: Muslim and Christian Artists in One Exhibit held as part of the Eid’l Fitr Festival in August this year.

Also featured were fellow National Artists Arturo Luz and Federico Alcuaz, and his son Toym Imao.

In September, the country also lost National Artist for Music Francisco Feliciano.

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