It is given by the Philippine Government, by virtue on Presidential Proclamation No. 1001 dated April 2, 1972, and jointly administered by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
In a profile on Imao, the NCCA notes, “Through his works, the indigenous ukkil, sarimanok and naga motifs have been popularized and instilled in the consciousness of the Filipino nation and other peoples as original Filipino creations.”
“With his large-scale sculptures and monuments of Muslim and regional heroes and leaders gracing selected sites from Batanes to Tawi-tawi, Imao has helped develop among cultural groups trust and confidence necessary for the building of a more just and humane society.”
A native of Sulu, he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. At U.P. he was introduced to and mentored by Filipino masters like Guillermo Tolentino and Napoleon Abueva (and who precede him as National Artists).
He earned his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from the University of Kansas, USA in 1962 as a Smith Mundt and Fulbright Scholar. He also did advanced studies in sculpture and ceramics as Fellow at the Rhode Island School of Design, 1961-1962 and in brass-casting and photography as a Faculty Scholar at the Columbia University in New York City, 1962-1963.
Imao also has the distinction of being the first Asian recipient of the New York Museum of Modern Art Grant to Europe and Scandinavia in 1963.
Among his major works are the Industry Brass Mural, Philippine National Bank, San Fernando, La Union; Mural Relief on Filmmaking, Manila City Hall; Industrial Mural, Central Bank of the Philippines, San Fernando, La Union; and Sulu Warriors (statues of Panglima Unaid and Captain Abdurahim Imao), Sulu Provincial Capitol.
Abroad, his Calligraphic Brass Sculpture and Paintings are in the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
With his expertise, Imao helped develop brass-casting technologies in other Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. He has also been recognized internationally as a brass-casting consultant of the UNDP and ILO.
In the country, he has assisted not only Maranao and Taosug brass workers but other groups as well, including the T’boli of southeastern Mindanao and the Cordillera groups of northern Luzon.
He has helped indigenous peoples develop their art by introducing techniques and promote efficiency and economy in the use of indigenous materials in all aspects of the brass-making process. He has assisted these groups build inexpensive foundry systems made of materials from the immediate environment and thus gave greater viability to brassware both as a cultural and artistic heritage and as a livelihood activity.
Dr. Alice Guillermo, U.P. professor and art critic has said of Imao, “If the art of brass casting has regained its vitality in the Philippines and Asia, it can be said without the least hesitation that this is owed to the untiring efforts of Abdulmari Asia Imao as a devoted teacher to many cultural groups.”