Up close and on Tiktok, they look very much like real shanties, but they’re actually the rigorously realized miniature dioramas of Jayson Pascual “Nhoda” Muñoz, a 28-year-old Kapampangan artist.
Nhoda got into miniature art as a way to cope with stress, anxiety and depression brought about by the pandemic. For six years, he was a full-time tattoo artist but Covid restrictions caused him to lose clients, lose income, and eventually slide into depression.
During the early days of the pandemic, his family would rush him to the hospital due to severe panic attacks and heavy chest pains. To deal with his condition, the Mabalacat, Pampanga native found himself joining Facebook groups of Filipinos experiencing anxiety. This was when he realized he needed to find a hobby that will serve as a form of therapy.
Nhoda was a “batang riles” and grew up living in the kind of homes he now makes replicas of. Even as a kid, he’s possessed an affinity for the arts. He remembers making dioramas made of popsicle sticks and scrap cardboards in grade school. The memories from his childhood inspired his recent works. He called his first project “Bahay ni Juan.” It’s made of 100% recycled materials such as wood, galvanized iron sheets (yero), plastic, pieces of cloth, and “tolda.” He collected these materials from junk shops, lumber shops, and dumpsters.
He started to gain popularity after creating an artwork for a client entitled “Galaw sa Tubig.” He posted a photo of it in a Facebook group called “ACE of Art,” a public group for Filipino artists, collectors, and enthusiasts. “Pinost ko lang na hindi ko naman inisip na may makaka-appreciate. Bigla siya nag-trending,” he says. “Doon na nagsimula at dumami ang mga clients ko.”
To hear Nhoda say it, building his miniature dioramas is pretty much like building a real house. “Ginagamitan ko ito ng pako, ipapako ko yung poste sa mga braces, tapos yung mga yero naman, yero talaga yan. Yung nakikita niyo pong kalawang, kalawang talaga yan,” he tells ANCX.
It took him three months to finish “Bahay ni Juan,” which is two feet in both height and width. But he completed “Galaw sa Tubig” in just three weeks because he was in dire need of cash at that time. “Talagang overtime every day,” he recalls. “Gigising ako ng maaga, matatapos ako ng 11 ng gabi.” On the average, the miniaturist spends about five hours a day doing his projects. It helps calm him down during panic attacks.
Initially, he built his projects out in the streets but thanks to a growing clientele, he’s now able to rent a place that serves as his workshop. He also trained his uncle, brother, cousin, and live-in partner to help him on commissioned pieces. So far, he’s completed projects for 15 clients. His rate starts at P15,000 per artwork.
Without realizing it, depression led Nhoda to a fulfilling, new career. “For now, talagang inaatake pa rin po ako ng panic attacks ko, pero masasabi ko po na maganda yung takbo ng buhay ko kasi marami pong sumusuporta sa akin. Sila na lang po yung pinaghuhugutan ko ng lakas, para ipagpatuloy yung ginagawa ko, para labanan yung nararamdaman kong depression,” he says.
Nhoda hopes his dioramas would be a source of inspiration and hope. “Yung mga art pieces na binubuo ko kasi, meron kasing boses yan,” he says. “Kaya ako gumagawa ng mga ganitong klase ng barung-barong or mga ganitong version ng diorama kasi umaasa po ako na someday magiging replica na lang po ito ng nakaraan. Umaasa po kasi ako na someday magiging maayos yung bansa natin.”
Nhoda is currently preparing for his very first solo art exhibit in Pampanga.