The Ayala Museum, in collaboration with J. Walter Thompson, recently launched the Imao Obra Typeface, the first font inspired by a Filipino. The inspiration for the font was the work of Abdulmari Imao, a National Artist who was largely responsible for the popularization of the indigenous ukkil (geometric flowing design based on leaf and vine patterns), sarimanok (mythical bird), and the naga (serpent).
Despite being the first and only Muslim recipient of a National Artist Award and his immense contributions to the Philippine art scene, Imao’s name is not widely known, even among Filipinos.
So who is Abdulmari Imao and why is the first Filipino font dedicated to him? Here are five fast facts about the first and only Muslim National Artist:
He fused traditional Islamic design with modernist patterns
Abdulmari Asia Imao is perhaps most famous for his fusion of eastern mystical and ornamental motifs with the western technique of Cubism. This resulted to abstract and colorful artworks for both painting and sculptures.
He is credited as the foremost designer of the Sarimanok motif
While Imao is a Muslim, he is first a Filipino thus he strived to bring Muslim culture closer to the rest of his fellowmen. Despite cultural barriers, Imao successfully instilled in the consciousness of Filipinos the Tausug and Maranao motifs of the sarimanok, ukkil, and the naga through his works, which pioneered a cultural shift in modern Filipino art.
He was under the tutelage of National Artists
Born to an impoverished family in Mindanao, it was a chance encounter with then Art Association of the Philippines secretary Tomas Bernardo that Imao was able to further his craft. Bernardo convinced the young Imao to seek his fortune in Manila. When he arrived, he applied to the UP School of Fine Arts. He learned and flourished under Napoleon Abueva and Guillermo Tolentino who would later become National Artists themselves. He would eventually pursue further studies abroad and return to the Philippines in 1964 to become a full-time sculptor and professor at the University of the East School of Fine Arts.
His eye for aesthetics was developed through observing boatmen in his hometown
Being a native of Jolo, Sulu, which is a seaside municipality, the young Imao developed his keen eye for aesthetics by watching Tausug boatmen decorate their boats. Soon, the boy would draw delicate, vine-like designs or ukkil on leaves of dapdap and banana.
His wife is a Catholic Pampangueña
When Imao returned to the Philippines in 1964, he met his greatest love, Grace de Leon. They had four children: Abdulmari “Toym” Junior, Jose Mari, Juan Sajid, and Alkarim. Perhaps it’s through their union (or maybe it’s really his personality) but Imao is known in the community as being open and accepting person of other faiths. This translated to his art, which is all about the beautiful creations beyond cultural differences.