Triumph and healing can take many forms—even as miniature barong-barong houses. Artist Nhoda Muñoz found admiration from fellow Filipinos, respite from his mental struggles, and a new career path through creating small-scale renditions of the homes from his childhood. And Boysen is honored to play a role in his work process and final art pieces.
“Nire-recall ko lang yung mga nakikita kong bahay dati nung kabataan ko kasi lumaki ako sa ganiyang klaseng lugar,” Nhoda tells Boysen in a phone interview.
Art, Heart, and Mind
Nhoda always knew he had artistic talent and a love for art. Before he started making dioramas, however, he didn’t quite realize just how much good it could bring his life. It all started during the pandemic, he shares.
“Full-time tatoo artist ako dati. Yun talaga yung medium ko. Pero pumasok yung pandemic. Nag-lockdown yung bansa natin. Madami satin nawalan ng trabaho. Na-depress ako. Tinamaan ng anxiety tsaka panic attacks. Di ko na alam gagawin ko.”
It was then that he decided to join a Facebook group for people who were going through similar mental struggles. “Nakita ko na kailangan meron kang pinagkakaabalahan,” says Nhoda. He was unaware of what dioramas were at the time, all he knew was that he had the urge to make something. “Basta alam ko gusto ko gumawa ng maliit na mga bahay na hawig sa mga bahay na nakikita ko nung sa riles pa kami nakatira.”
Nhoda titled his first miniature barong-barong “Bahay ni Juan.” Today, he has made more than 20 including ones he created as art commissions. Each one has—and continues to—help him make a living and bear the weight of his mental struggles.
“Ito na naging brain therapy ko. Aminado ako na hanggang ngayon nandun pa rin yung anxiety ko pero once na na-trigger, tinatrabaho ko yung diorama. Nare-refresh yung utak ko. Nada-divert yung iniisip ko at napupunta na sa artwork na ginagawa ko. At the same time, ito na rin yung naging source of income ko,” says Nhoda.
Nhoda’s work captures so much of the likeness of urban shanties that one feels almost transported to the scene. Among others, you’ll be able to spot rough makeshift furniture in cramped living spaces, hollow blocks to weigh down worn out corrugated roofs, and paint containers reused as water pails and trash bins. It typically takes him two months to fully finish a diorama owing to the level of detail he puts into each.
The artist’s impeccable attention to detail is enough to impress just about anyone. Proof is in the more than 5 million views of his most popular video and his now combined hundreds of thousands of followers from his social media accounts.
Because he has been around barong-barong houses since he was a child, Nhoda says he doesn’t need to copy from anywhere or make initial sketches. His inspiration comes from memory. “Ang nangyayari parang pure imagination ko yung pagbuo ng artwork. Una, tatayo ko yung mga poste ng bahay. Tapos dun ko pa lang naiisip yung details na ilalagay ko,” he says.
From the streets, he takes not just artistic inspiration but also materials we would think of as junk. “Once na lumabas ako ng bahay, nakatingin din ako sa kalsada para sa kung ano makita ko na puwede ko malagay sa diorama.”
And, when he does need to buy, he buys scraps. The wood comes from a lumber shop near his house and the GI sheets are scraps from a hardware store. To make the materials look aged, he paints them. He says he prefers Boysen—which is also why the paint product makes its way to his final artwork.
“Boysen talaga yung gamit ko pang pintura. Kung ano yung mga nakikita ko sa paligid ko, kung ano yung ginagamit ko sa araw-araw, yun yung inspiration ko sa gawa ko. Kaya yung lata andun din sa diorama.”
In his work, the sturdy paint containers are repurposed as water pails, trash cans, and plant pots. “Kasi nung bata kami ganun din. Yung Boysen na lata ginagawang timba tsaka kung ano-ano pa. Ganun din siya sa artwork ko.”
What Lies Ahead
Today, with the earnings from his miniatures, Nhoda has been able to own a small space of his own which he plans to turn into a simple art studio where he can work on his pieces. It’s a well-deserved upgrade from when he used to make the dioramas on the side of the road. “Nag-start kasi ako sa daan, sa harap lang ng bahay namin. Sa umaga ilalabas ko yung gamit ko taspos pagsisilim na, papasok ko na ulit.”
He plans to save enough so he can also move his home to the floor above his art studio. “Para di nako lalayo. Paggising sa umaga, bababa na lang tapos magtatrabaho na.” No doubt his dream will soon become reality. We’re rooting for you, Nhoda!
Photos used with permission from the artist