Fabreo gets inspiration from street scenes in Metro Manila.
Culture Spotlight

This OFW battles homesickness by making dioramas of Philippine street scenes

For Edon Fabreo, it’s not only a way to beat boredom but a way for him and other Filipinos to reconnect with their roots.
RHIA D. GRANA | Sep 08 2020

Overseas Filipino workers engage in all sorts of pastimes to beat homesickness. Some make it a regular thing to do weekend meetups with fellow Pinoys. Some devour Philippine-based content—news, music, movies—just for a taste of home. And then there’s social media, which has made the world smaller, made it easier for them to connect with loved ones in ‘Pinas.

In the case of 53-year-old Edon Fabreo, who has been working in the Middle East for over a decade now, one of the ways he deals with homesickness is creating Philippine urban diorama. Imagine miniature versions of a slum area, a carinderia, an LBC outlet, a sari-sari store, a barbershop, a church, and an ancestral house. You can see most of his works in the Philippine Urban Diorama Facebook page.

His dioramas are mostly made from scrap materials.

His little hobby started out in 2012, but his fascination for scale models dates back to his childhood years. Raised by a government employee father, Fabreo admits he didn’t have the privilege of owning expensive toys when he was still a kid. “During my time, mahal lahat—magazines, toys like Lego, scale models,” he recalls.

So when the internet came along, he got exposed to all sorts of things he can create out of scrap materials. And that was how he discovered no one was making Philippine-themed urban dioramas. 

For Fabreo, his dioramas are a source of pride and joy, as they are recognized by modelers from other countries.

And so one day in 2012, he started building his first—out of mixed media, which included materials like paper and cardboard. “My first project was set in a slum area, Aling Naty Sari-Sari Store. It was named after my mom,” shares the Architecture graduate. When he posted a picture of it on Facebook, it immediately got viral—someone shared it and called it a Filipino doll house.

The post attracted both positive and negative reactions, but all in all, the attention he got gave him a sort of boost.

Fabreo's first project and his inspiration for it, his mom Naty

From then on, he started making diorama out of scenes we usually see in the streets of Metro Manila. During his free time or days off—he works in a company that fabricates and manufactures wooden cabinets—you can find him in his room working on a new diorama project.

Fabreo doesn’t have a workshop area. “Dito lang sa kama or sa katabing table. Basta I have a good cutting material and adhesive, good lighting, happy na ako,” he says.

One of his first projects is this scene that's set in a slum area, which went viral.

The dioramas aren’t exactly replicas of a specific structure or street. He picks ideas from photographs online (e.g. Google images, Google Maps), since the real thing would be miles away. During vacations in the Philippines (he comes home once or twice a year), he would take some street shots. “Hindi ko kinokopya ang eksaktong itsura, but the urban familiarity is still there, and I make sure people, especially Filipinos, can relate to it,” Fabreo says.

One would be quick to note that his dioramas include no miniature humans or animals. “Adding humans or animals tend to betray the hyperrealism concept, that’s how I see it. So what I do is show signs of life—say, a beer bottle or newspaper that someone had left, cigarette butts someone had thrown,” he explains.

The dioramas are lightweight, you can lift one with your fingers.

He still builds his vignettes out of scrap materials (he’s comfortable with cardboard and corrugated boxes). Even the tiny bottles and glasses are made by his own hands. Although there are elements that can be found in other model kits, such as chairs and vehicles, so he buys those. His professional scale modeler friends would dole out some of their excess greeneries.

“All are lightweight—you can lift a diorama with your fingers,” he says.

Apart from Aling Naty’s Store, his other personal favorites among his creations are the tiny Saint Anne Parish in Pampanga that a friend requested him to build, and the El Hogar building in Binondo. “I made do with photos of existing fixtures, since there was no floor plan available,” he says of the work that the famous heritage site demanded. 

One of his favorite projects is this replica of El Hogar building in Binondo.

For Fabreo, it’s also a source of pride and joy to be recognized by modelers from other countries. “Napabilib ko sila. They are so amazed kasi masinop tayong mga Pinoy pagdating sa materials. We don’t have that much resources, but we are creative,” he says. Our patience, our being observant, and our keen attention to details, he adds, allow us to make unique and noteworthy works of art.

Since starting the hobby, this father of four has already made about 18 vignettes—some of which he sold to Filipino immigrants. “They also miss being home, so the dioramas connect them with their roots. Some of my models were brought to Australia and the US.”

Which brings us to another reason Fabreo finds creating Philippine urban dioramas fulfilling. He says it would be nice to see his creation in an exhibit someday. Although seeing it displayed in a home offers a high in itself. “Masaya na ako nun,” he says, smiling.