For Philippine sculptor Abdulmari “Toym” de Leon Imao ’12, art is in the blood. He counts as his inspiration his father, an award-winning sculptor, and his mother, a gallery curator and art connoisseur. “My parents were into the art scene back home, so as a child I grew into this environment,” he said.
With such a background, it isn’t surprising that Imao finds himself a Fulbright Scholar working on an MFA at MICA’s Rinehart School of Sculpture. Imao’s father, Abdulmari A. Imao, Sr., also won a Fulbright Scholarship in the field of sculpture in 1960. The accomplished sculptor has also received several other awards and recognitions, including the country’s highest cultural award, the Order of National Artist of the Republic of the Philippines, as well as The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Award for Sculpture, an award that served as inspiration for Imao’s nickname.
Imao completed his undergraduate degree in architecture at the University of the Philippines and set up a successful architectural firm upon graduation. However, the allure of life as an artist proved too strong. “Slowly I found myself getting involved in more art than my architectural and construction projects until one day I just decided to give up my partnership in the firm and commit myself to full-time artmaking,” he said
He concentrated on doing large-scale public art projects, such as monuments and shrines, and has had several government commissions for historical representations. Among his most recent works are a 22- by-100-foot brass and marble historical tableau relief mural on the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898, a 60-foot mural centered on the Spanish and American historical legacy for a museum in Baler, Philippines, and a 7-foot cast bronze statue of Philippine national hero Jose P. Rizal that was unveiled in Carson, California in December.
Imao also took part in a Managing the Arts Program at the Asian Institute of Management and received a Ford and Rockefeller Foundation grant to create art in Hue, Vietnam. He had just finished two years of an MFA at the University of Philippines’ College of Fine Arts and was working on his dissertation and teaching graduate sculpture classes part time when he was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship.
In addition to completing his work at MICA, Imao is heavily involved in the research of urban transportation systems in the Philippines. As part of the board of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, Imao is focused on the use of electrical cars to replace the shared taxi vehicles called “jeepneys” that are currently used. “I have specifically concentrated in the design of these vehicles to fit in the visual comfort zone of the commuters by making the outer designs as colorful as their predecessors,” he said. Imao is also writing a book about jeepney culture.
Though he plans to return to the Philippines after graduating from MICA, Imao hopes to keep one foot grounded in the American art scene. “I hope to establish a little studio in the Baltimore area and spend a few months each year in the United States,” he said. While he’s excited about the future, Imao also is appreciative of how MICA is helping him grow in his craft. “When I leave MICA, I’ll have diversified and matured as an artist,” he said.