The arts of the Philippines reflect a society with diverse cultural influences and traditions. The Malayan peoples had early contact with traders who introduced Chinese and Indian influences. Islamic traditions were first introduced to the Malays of the southern Philippine Islands in the 14th century. Most modern aspects of Philippine cultural life evolved under the foreign rule of Spain and, later, the United States.
In the 16th century the Spanish imposed a foreign culture based in Catholicism. While the lowland peoples were acculturated through religious conversion, the Muslims and some upland tribal groups maintained cultural independence. Among those who were assimilated arose an educated elite who began to establish a modern Filipino literary tradition.
During the first half of the 20th century, American influence made the Philippines one of the most Westernized nations in Southeast Asia. The cultural movements of Europe and the United States profoundly influenced Filipino artists, even after independence in 1946. While drawing on Western forms, however, the works of Filipino painters, writers, and musicians are imbued with distinctly Philippine themes. By expressing the cultural richness of the archipelago in all its diversity, Filipino artists have helped to shape a sense of national identity.
Many Malay cultural traditions have survived despite centuries of foreign rule. Muslims and upland tribal groups maintain distinct traditions in music, dance, and sculpture. In addition, many Filipino artists incorporate indigenous folk motifs into modern forms.