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.
Imao’s father, Abdulmari A. Imao, Sr., won a Fulbright Scholarship in the field of sculpture in 1960 and received 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 the younger Imao’s nickname. With such a background, it isn’t surprising that Toym Imao also found himself a Fulbright Scholar working on an M.F.A. at MICA’s Rinehart School of Sculpture.
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. Imao has had several government commissions for historical representations, including a 22- by-100-foot brass and marble historical tableau relief mural on the Philippine Revolution of 1896-1898 and a 7-foot cast bronze statue of Philippine national hero Jose P. Rizal.
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 M.F.A. 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. Imao is also involved in urban transportation systems in the Philippines; as part of the board of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, he is focused on the use of electrical cars to replace the shared taxi vehicles called “jeepneys” that are currently used.
Though he returned to the Philippines after graduating from MICA, Imao hopes to keep one foot grounded in the American art scene. He’s excited about the future and also is appreciative of how MICA helped him grow in his craft. “When I left MICA, I had diversified and matured as an artist,” he said.