NOVEMBER 12, 2019

A son and his father

BY FIEL ESTRELLA
PHOTOS FROM GALERIE JOAQUIN AND TOYM IMAO

Toym Imao’s In His Veins is a multicolored and deeply personal sojourn through his father’s life and art.

Toym Imao’s latest exhibition in Galerie Joaquin UP Town Center, In His Veins, is the second phase of three in a series he has been planning. The first, Ima/Ina, was a tribute to his cultural roots in Pampanga, where his mother was from; it was dedicated to her as well as the strength of women in their familial lives. In His Veins, which is subtitled Ama-hinasyon, similarly draws on Toym’s paternal heritage.

“It’s an homage to his influences,” says Toym, whose father was National Artist Abdulmari Asia Imao, who was born in Sulu and strongly identified with his Tausug culture both in life and in art. “It’s basically grounded on imaginary narratives and visualization of [what he saw] as a kid.”

Toym’s father held a fascination for migratory birds and sea life in his hometown, where he grew up in a family of fishermen and boatmakers. It was a time of war, and the planes of imperialist countries were just as interesting to him. “He was so fascinated by it,” says Toym. “He really got caught up in it.” 

A common theme in Abdulmari Imao’s works was the sarimanok, culled from the culture he held dear. It eventually became widely accepted and recognized in the realm of contemporary Filipino art. “That has defined a big chunk of his work,” Toym says. “I grew up with all these narratives, all these stories about [his art], and it has greatly influenced my own work.”

When his father dassed away in 2014, Toym decided to carry on using the sarimanok as a motif and interpret it his own way, which will be the subject of the third exhibit in 2020. “Para sa akin, hindi pa tapos ang trabaho ng sarimanok in the family,” he says.

As it has helped showcase Mindanao’s culture in contemporary art, Toym envisions it as a symbol of representation, especially in Asian perspectives. That it is multicolored only strengthens its case as a visual metaphor for diversity.  “Just when we thought that we were advancing as a civilization and nations are finally accepting the idea of diversity, we have this age of bigotry again against Mulsims,” he points out. “For me, my dad’s job isn’t done yet.”

He has been told that the paintings in In His Veins are some of the happiest and most colorful among his work. “It’s been quite some time since I had a lot of paintings done, so this was my comeback,” he says. “I’m experimenting with a new form. The paintings themselves were like imaginary visual journeys of my dad encountering migratory birds in the mountains, in the rivers, [representing] airplanes and flying objects he saw as a child amidst a war. So this is fantastical; much of the imagery is young people, an homage to imagination and creativity.”

Artist Toym Imao poses next to his sculptures and paintings for In His Veins, an exhibit serving as an homage to his late father, National Artist Abdulmari Asia Imao.

Each work is a snapshot of a moment in a young person’s life — fishing, diving, lost in the forest. It is a “visual thank-you” to his late father, and also part of the process of grief and letting go. “This is a son trying to remember his parents, pieces of their lives,” says Toym. “Sometimes it’s part of the healing. I still miss my parents, and I think part of the healing is when you articulate the histories of what you want to remember. The process of letting go is much easier.”

Asked if there is any difference between how he perceived his father’s work when he was younger compared to now, he answers, “I think it has more to do with the wisdom of age. You see things a little differently. You see the nuances and you can appreciate them. You try to reflect on those nuances also, but at the same time, you also want to simplify the complexities, just contain them in very poignant representation.”

Ultimately, In His Veins has taught Toym Imao a lot about the idea of sincerity. “I wouldn’t want to be an artist who’s stuck creating just beautiful works that sell without actually having a connection to them,” he says. “These works are taken from my own personal history and the histories of my lineage, my ancestry, and I’ve tried to share that with the kinds of work that I do.” 

Galerie Joaquin is located at 2F Phase 2, UP Town Center, Katipunan Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City.

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