Articulator of Culture: A Review of Abdulmari Asia Imao | National Artist

Among the descriptions used to describe Sulu-native Abdulmari Asia Imao during the conferment of his National Artist for Visual Arts award, it is ‘articulator of Philippine Muslim art and culture’ which resonates the embodiment of his lifeworks. He is a sculptor, painter, photographer, ceramist, documentary filmmaker, cultural researcher and writer, whose focus is to bring Philippine Muslim heritage closer to the Filipino general public. In his artistic process, Imao, backed with his research on Philippine Muslim traditions, reinterprets and rejuvenates uniquely-Philippine Muslim design motifs of sarimanok, naga and ukil or okir; thus bringing into the work his own personal articulation and understanding of his heritage.

In an interview with National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin in 1969, National Artist Abdulmari Asia Imao informed Joaquin:

I have been working on the Sarimanok style. This is a design I am trying to improve, revitalize. That is why I have been doing research on this Muslim motif: to develop it into another design which will be distinctively Muslim.

To celebrate the National Artist’s birth and death anniversaries (14 January 1936 and 16 December 2014, respectively), the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Gallery is showcasing his never-before-exhibited sketches, photographs, paintings, and sculptures, most of which are from his family collection. The collection provides the viewers a more intimate look at the life and works of the National Artist.

With the aim of letting the viewers immerse more into the context of the works, which is consistent with National Artist Abdulmari Asia Imao’s goal of bringing Philippine Muslim culture closer to a wider audience, the management of space within the exhibition also emanates some of its aesthetic philosophies. Upon entry into the gallery, the viewer is led immediately to the elegant sculptures at the center. They form a spiral arabesque, the principal shape of the native okir or ukil. Unlike the conventional straight-angled display of sculptures, the pieces are tilted, orientated curiously towards the huge painting at the back. This curatorial gesture brings into the focal point the sun — the centerpiece of Islamic religion, Allah.

Such is the essence of Islamic religion, which in turn, is also the essence of Abdulmari Asia Imao’s art. 

 

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The exhibition runs from the 6th of December 2016 to the 26th of January 2017 at the NCCA Gallery at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Building at General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila City.

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