FOLK Catholic practices are highlighted in Veejay Villafranca’s photography exhibit, Faith Above Fate, which ran at the JIV Manila Art Gallery in Quezon City from June 30 to July 20.

The exhibit consisted of digital photos mounted on small light boxes that documented Villafranca’s travels across the Philippines. His photos focused on Filipino religious practices and the phenomenon of faith healing.

A cluster of photos, “A Show of Devotion: Feast of the Black Nazarene,” documented the Black Nazarene devotion of Quiapo, Manila, showing the deep dedication of Filipinos from all walks of life who endure the heat and the oppressive crowd just to have a moment’s touch with the famous Catholic icon.

Siquijor province in the Visayas, famous for alleged witchcraft, was the focus of “Rituals of the Earth and Spirit: The Island of Siquijor.” The photo vignettes show shaman folk healers burning leaves and twigs to concoct potions that would be used ostensibly to heal people physically, spiritually and psychologically.

Meanwhile, “Prayer and Penitence: 15 Mysteries” showed Catholic devotees simulating the Passion of Christ as they trek up a rocky hill where three statues of Jesus Christ as the Holy Triumvirate stand on top.

The healing hands of Jun Labo, the psychic healer and former mayor of Baguio City, were highlighted in the last group of photos, “Fate in the Hands that Heal: Psychic Surgery.”

The images show Labo in deep in prayer while performing his healing ritual on different patients, intense concentration etched on his face.

In other photos, Villafranca glimpses of other practices such as hilot (folk healing) and kulam (witchcraft).

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Villafranca’s fascination with Filipino religious practices showed in the photographs. He confessed that he had once questioned his faith, but was able to reconcile with his beliefs over time.

“As an artist, there are no boundaries, no time limits with the work I do,” he said. “But I try to set some for myself because if I don’t, this (project) would be a never-ending endeavor.”

Villafranca graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Advertising Arts in 2005 from the UST College of Fine Arts and Design. One of his earlier projects, a photo documentary about the lives of former street gang members living in one of the most dangerous slums in Manila, won him the prestigious Ian Parry Scholarship Grant in London in 2008.

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