Hyper-Realistic Dioramas Capture Everyday Life in the Philippines

The Filipino artist behind the pieces has been working abroad for over a decade and battles homesickness with creativity.
September 11, 2020, 11:57am
Dioramas Filipino Urban Scenes
Collage: VICE / Images: Courtesy of Edon Fabreo

Homesickness is one of the biggest challenges for the millions of Filipinos working overseas. They rarely have the chance to visit loved ones back home and usually only keep in touch through social media. To cope, some stream Filipino shows or cook Filipino food. But Riyadh-based designer Edon Fabreo preferred the creative route.

The 53-year-old has been based in Saudi Arabia for over a decade. For him, the best way to get a taste of home is by recreating it. He makes incredibly realistic dioramas of scenes from everyday life in the Philippines, everything from carinderias (local eateries) to sari-sari stores (corner store).

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A building in the Philippines, part of Philippine Urban Setting Diorama Series. Made with scratch build paper and mixed media. Photo: Courtesy of Edon Fabreo

Fabreo grew up in Quezon City, Metro Manila and still misses his childhood home.

“My family are always in my heart and mind,” he said. “The hustle and bustle of Metro Manila, it's food, noisy streets, historical places and the daily grind of its people. Of course the beaches and green landscape of the rural places.”

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A diorama of Aling Naty's small corner store. Photo: Courtesy of Edon Fabreo

He had been working on plastic models of vehicles such as Tamiya and Revell, when he noticed that urban dioramas were popular online in 2012. However, he had never seen ones of the Philippines. That inspired him to start making his hyper-realistic pieces.

His first diorama piece was inspired by his mom, Aling Naty and her small corner stall. He posted it online, got positive reviews, and continued making his creations. He gave his early works to family and friends but has since turned other homesick Filipinos into fans, with buyers from as far as the United States and Australia.

Fabreo said that it is sometimes difficult to find the materials he needs but he gets a sense of fulfilment in making the dioramas.

“[I]t's hard at the start but really exciting at the same time. It took most of my free time while living alone here in the desert city of Riyadh,” he said.

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A diorama of El Hogar Filipino in Manila. Photo: Courtesy of Edon Fabreo

The pieces that took the most time and effort — Sta. Ana Parish Church in Pampanga and El Hogar Filipino in Manila — are also his favourites.

While Fabreo would love to do grander tourist spots in the country, he feels it’s truly the scenes closer to his heart that inspire him.

“I have so much concepts and ideas in mind like the mountain houses of Baguio and surrounding areas, the ancestral houses of the provinces, historical structures and places, but creating the urban scene of the cities are the ones that make me tick.”

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A diorama of a small bakery he named after his older sister, Bles. Photo: Courtesy of Edon Fabreo

Despite his loneliness abroad, Fabreo wishes to continue this hobby and inspire others to do the same. He now has friends who share the same interests and is part of a hobbies and crafts group with fellow Filipinos.

“It shows that Filipinos, wherever we may be, are creative and artistic.”