Remembering Imao through BGC building proposals

National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Asia Imao has passed on, and yet, his permanent influence on Philippine Muslim art on a global scale endures.

The proverbial torch has now been taken up by his deserving son Abdulmari de Leon Imao, Jr., popularly known as Toym Imao, who successfully makes waves in the art community with his commentaries on Filipino social conditions and his pop culture references.

Abdulmari de Leon Imao Jr., also known as Toym Imao.

The descendant continues his father’s legacy as he shares the elder Imao’s 28 Mindanao-inspired paintings and 38 Sulu-dedicated sculptures as tribute to the home province, in the exhibit A Life Without Borders, ongoing at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB).

Paintings by Abdulmari Imao

Born to boat-maker parents, Imao’s interest in art was piqued at the young age of nine. A life-changing moment was when he studied at the University of the Philippines. There, he was mentored by two National Artists for sculpture, Guillermo Tolentino and Napoleon Abueva.

He then pursued a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture, major in Metal Brass Casting, at the University of Kansas. He also studied Creative Sculpture in Ceramic Technology at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Documentary Motion Picture and Photography at the Columbia University in the United States.

Sculpture by Abdulmari Imao.

He was the first Asian to receive the New York Museum of Modern Art grant throughout Europe.

His paintings feature indigenous ukkil, sarimanok and naga, which are essential design elements of the Tausug and Meranaw. His intricate carvings and signature brass casting techniques honor the Sulu archipelago.

Due to his distinct heritage, he has been honored with the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award and the Presidential Medal of Merit. He was the first Moro to be honored as a National Artist of the Philippines in 2006.

Inspired by his creations, as a reaction, a number of Architecture students of the DLS-CSB have designed scale models of high-rise buildings.

Sculpture by Abdulmari Imao.

The project was headed by their professor, architect Jim Caumeron, a recipient of Tatler Homes Philippines’ Design Awards 2022 for Best Architectural Concept for the Viewpoint House. He aimed to focus on Filipino culture and creativity in the urbanscape of the Bonifacio Global City.

Project head, professor and architect Jim Caumeron.

“The skyline of BGC today is that of a developing city — progressive but generic, lacking in character and soul,” he observed.

He noted that the community is not perfect, as it still needs “basic mobility infrastructures to make the enclave porous for non-residents who come here to work and play.”

“The visceral experience becomes lacking as you realize that while it has the superficial qualities, the efficiency of a real, functioning city is missing,” he continued.

“While our scope may not be able address the cities’ infrastructural shortcomings, it deals with the building envelope and aims to somehow disrupt the banality of 80 percent of its building forms and skins,” he emphasized.

Although the skyscraper remains a commercially driven venture in this scenario, the Imao project is an opportunity to demonstrate how art can mold culturally familiar building envelopes into reflections of Filipino culture and creativity,” he ended.

Allow us to share some of Imao’s masterpieces and the students’ creations.

Photographs courtesy of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde | Carin Jill Semaña and Ma. Erica Espinosa (Justin Hayden Cua not in photo) with their architectural model.
Elleana Masiglat and Ma. Regina Bianca Halili with their project.
Toym Imao with Benilde Architecture students Kyla Isabelle Cordova and David Noel Santos with their creation
Benilde Architecture students Abigail Ruth Opulencia and Sofia Reynoso with their scale figure



ARCHITECTURAL masterpiece by students Liezl Dela Cruz, Isabella Francesca Gironella and Andrea Mendoza.
SCALE model by students Vianna Leigh Evangelista and Kate Abad.