Arts & Culture


The artist collective Strange Fruit marks its second year with Art Fair Philippines through a collection of work that offers some subtle yet poignant commentaries on the state of our nation.

/ 14 May 2021

Established in 2020, Strange Fruit follows a contemporary vision on the photographic medium that aim to show a broad spectrum of photo-based artworks highlighting the eccentricities of the Philippines. 

The group’s mission is to continuously champion photography as an artistic medium through the formidable vision of its members. They bring a diverse collection of photographs showcasing the tragedy and beauty of life in the archipelago, the depth and color in our culture and the continuum of ironies that are ever present in our society. The images in this exhibition in particular – subtle yet intense and suffused with grit and dignity — are driven by a non-logocentric vision to present what our society is and who we are as a people. 

The Strange Fruit collective is made up of artists from all different types of photography disciplines: Francisco Guerrero, E.S.L. Chen, Jason Quibilan, Jes Aznar, Raena Abella, and Veejay Villafranca. Each of the members offer a distinct perspective into their collective body of work, with unique depictions of our country’s socio-cultural issues.

Image courtesy of Strange Fruit


Francisco Guerrero is a freelance photographer and director creating commercial and editorial images based in the Philippines. His first contact with photography at the age of 12 was taking pictures of chickens in his backyard with his father’s camera. He attended the Brooks Institute of Photography in California. Francisco holds a degree in Anthropology and Communications from Goldsmiths College, London. 

Having completed the release of his series Portraits in The Field during the past two editions of Art Fair, Paco begins a new series of abstract work exploring the transitional states between land, sea and air.

The Wave by Francisco Guerrero, Image courtesy of Strange Fruit


E.S.L. Chen‘s work, on the other hand, is an amalgamation of paradox, time and impulse. His photographs can be described as personal experiences preserved as visual memories. His selection of work for this year’s Art Fair is a meditation on movement and the lack thereof. 

He seeks to convey to the viewer an anticipation of motion derived solely from a photographic print that is completely still. This is a reference to being in the present moment which the artist draws a lot of inspiration from. Each step in his process from capturing slices of emotion, all the way to the finished work, is done with intention.

Barringtonia 1 by E.S.L. Chen, Image courtesy of Strange Fruit


One of the founding members of Strange Fruit is, Jason Quibilan a photographer based in Manila. He works across different platforms including collaborations with filmmakers, writers, and visual artists, including Arturo Luz, on a series of photographs and prints. In 2019, he co-founded Fotobaryo, a non-profit educational foundation focused on teaching traditional film photography and darkroom printing. 

These are the evolving forms of Quibilan’s examinations of objects through X rays. 

Begun in 2019, the series “sub/objects” plays on the seeming mundanity of his subjects, using the photographic process to transmogrify rather than represent the subject. In this series, the Filipino staple of dried seafood, or “daing”, dinaing na pusit (squid), espada (beltfish), sapsap (ponyfish) and galunggong (mackerel scad) are rendered alien, allowing a view unobscured by cultural familiarity. 

It reveals an invisible dimension in the most common, everyday objects.

Myopside by Jason Quibilan, Image courtesy of Strange Fruit


Another member that’s participating in this year’s collection is Jes Aznar. The series of photos he shares in the collection is part of the artist’s ongoing study of the bloodsport in the Philippine context. One facet attempts to draw meaning from the abstractions of forms and the grace of movement in conflict. Another, to visually understand the different manifestations of the psyche evoked from this ancient sport that has transformed into a phallic symbol. 

Jes’ works, of course, are always a discourse on the reflections of society, its complicated contradictions, surreality of conflicts both hidden and overt, or simply about its incongruous strangeness.

Soltada I by Jes Aznar, Image courtesy of Strange Fruit


Lured again by the haunting beauty of the sea, Raena Abella returns to one of her favorite subjects for this year’s Art Fair. With the desire to escape and be enveloped by the power of images, the artist has parlayed her photographs onto the breadth and depth of large scale format. 

Raena Abella studied Fine Arts, Major in Painting, from the University of the Philippines, and completed further studies Black and White Photography at International Center of Photography in New York City; Wet plate collodion at Gallery 44 in Toronto; and Platinum Printing at Penumbra Foundation in New York City. 

Her work has graced the exhibitions at Manila Contemporary, Mo Space, Art Center, Light and Space Contemporary, Ayala Museum, Finale Gallery, West Gallery, Blanc Gallery, Galleria Duemila, TAKSU Singapore, Artinformal and Art Fair PH. 

Raena is currently focusing her photography on a new series ranging from landscapes to the human form. Her fine art explorations expand and dissolve the boundaries of the medium through digital photography and alternative photographic production processes such as wet plate collodion and silver gelatin print. 

As a testament to the alchemy of technique and intuition, Raena’s work as an Operations Manager for a construction company and her training as a certified engine mechanic truly inform her unique

As a testament to the alchemy of technique and intuition, Raena’s work as an Operations Manager for a construction company and her training as a certified engine mechanic truly inform her unique artistic vision and visual narratives.

Still 2 by Raena Abella, Image courtesy of Strange Fruit


Last of the members is Veejay Villafranca, born and raised in Manila. He started his journalism career as a staff photographer for a national news magazine covering national news and socio-political stories. Since 2006 he has been a full-time documentary photographer and worked with international news wire agencies and publications covering news and feature stories as well as pursuing personal projects and long-form stories of various regions of the Philippines. 

He is a visual culture lecturer at the Asian Center for Journalism in the Diploma in Visual Journalism program, at the Bachelors in Photography course at the College of Saint Benilde, and for international photo-festivals and conferences. 

Barrio Sagrado examines how colonization and religion played an important role in shaping our Filipino identity. 

A project that started in 2010, the expanse of this work ranges from the pagan and pre-colonial rituals that has been exoticised and relegated as bizarre, to the silent and personal spiritual quests to appease a troubled soul. 

These series of images, an excerpt to an upcoming book, highlights the relevance of the years of colonization on how our identity is regarded as strange and fanatics to religion and secular faith. 

Moving away from the ‘exotic’ image of religion, the stories for Barrio Sagrado are more current and critical of the role of religion on the daily lives of Filipinos and even other Catholic communities in the Pacific. We problematize and look deeper into the clichés of religion, spirituality and how it navigates life around the Philippine archipelago and on the fringes.

The Saviour by Veejay Villafranca, Image courtesy of Strange Fruit


Check out the collective’s exhibit at Art Fair Philippines, on of the country’s biggest celebrations of Philippine contemporary art, open on May 6-15, 2021.

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