Malaysian retiree's unique diorama art spreads awareness about co-existence

Wong with one of his diorama artworks entitled ‘We need to fight them together’ representing Covid-19, made during the early days of the pandemic. Photos: The Star/Faihan Ghani

Being a cancer survivor, 70-year-old Ronnie Wong knows how important it is to stay positive and happy.

And for Wong, diorama art is what has given him much solace and joy.

A diorama is a miniature model of a scene, typically depicting a historical or contemporary event.

Diorama art has been around for hundreds of years, and is popularly used for many things like teaching, entertaining and telling stories.

Wong’s creations focus on small insects like ants and spiders, depicting them in their natural habitats or activities.

He considers himself a storyteller through his art, which he hopes will create awareness of the importance of an ecosystem where human beings, insects, animals, birds, etc coexist in the world.

Wong has always been fascinated by nature, and finds that creating dioramas allows him to be a lot closer to the natural environment.

Wong at his home showing some of the diorama artworks he has made so far.Wong at his home showing some of the diorama artworks he has made so far.

“Since my previous involvement was in the flower trading business, I always visited nurseries and flower farms. I was very close to nature,” he says.

“I started off by making wire craft such as scorpions and dragonflies. But to me, making figures with wire means I can’t make a diorama out of it.

“So I ‘stole’ some beads from my wife, who makes handcrafted jewellery, and came up with the ants. When I created the ants out of the beads, it just blended together,” he explains during an interview at his house in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

For each piece, Wong begins by gathering materials before actually building his diorama. This can be a time-consuming process as he is very meticulous about ensuring that every detail is accurate.

“My art consists of natural and artificial materials. The wood, rocks and soil are natural while the plastic foliage is artificial. Whatever components I use, I enhance them to make them look more lifelike,” he shares.

Assembling ants and other insects is not easy. The process is tedious and some parts require a lot of patience.

Each diorama takes Wong two hours to a week to put together, depending on the size.Each diorama takes Wong two hours to a week to put together, depending on the size.

“To make one ant, it requires six steps and I use two to three kinds of glue as some glues don’t perform well,” he says.

Although his primary focus is on ants, he has expanded his crafting skills by making other types of insects.

“After making ‘antscapes’, I realised that I could create other things like dragonflies, bumblebees and even penguins.

“Putting together the wings (of dragonflies and bees) is slightly difficult. You have to balance both sides (of the wings) or else it will not look right,” he says.

Making spider webs is his biggest challenge yet.

“Each joint needs to be dry before you stick it with another one. It takes some time to finish,” he explains.

Besides making antscapes, Wong also creates other forms of diorama art, including the Winglets series, which has bees and flies, the Websites series, which features spiders, the Antpots series, which lets you grow a real plant inside. He has also created a number of metaphorical designs, such as about Christmas and Covid-19.

One of Wong's Wingslet series. Besides ants, he also makes other insects such as dragonflies.One of Wong's Wingslet series. Besides ants, he also makes other insects such as dragonflies.

Staying active

Wong believes in keeping busy in his later years rather than doing nothing.

“I refuse to be redundant (at this age) and I want to do something fruitful. When you age, you don’t really retire, you hibernate. I want to be productive for my health and creative for my art,” he shares.

However, as someone who had cancer, it was not always easy for him.

“When I found out I had cancer eight years ago, I went through an operation and I had to go back to do tests every three months. It was agonising,” he expresses.

That was when he decided to do art, finding the process incredibly rewarding. He gets lost in the details and the stories he is depicting.

“When I sit down to do this, I am lost in a world of my own. I never knew I could create this. I was never a good painter but since this includes many types of materials and needs me to paint, I started learning how to paint,” he says.

Wong strives to make his designs look as realistic as possible.Wong strives to make his designs look as realistic as possible.

Ever so often, he would share his artwork at bazaars and will be touched by the positive response he normally receives. Many people have commented on how realistic his art looked.

“Some foreigners came to my booth and said, ‘I have travelled the world and I have never seen this’. This type of comment makes me very happy.

“There was also a school teacher who bought one of my work and showed it to the pupils. It warms my heart to know my art is being used to inspire children,” he adds.

Wong finds that his hobby provides him with a sense of accomplishment and a way to stay mentally and physically active.

Wong says that engaging in diorama art allows him to be productive and put his mind at ease.Wong says that engaging in diorama art allows him to be productive and put his mind at ease.

Although he sells his diorama artwork to people who are interested in them, he never intended to open a business.

“When I started this, it was not about money. To me, the most important thing is passion. Certain people admire the art and that is enough to make me happy.

“This is how I keep my mind at ease. This art has turned from being merely a hobby to a passion,” he expresses, adding that it also allows him to connect with people and nature in a very meaningful way.

In ending, Wong says that finding methods to express oneself and staying happy is vital for cancer survivors and people in general.

“If you are sick, leave (the illness) to the doctors. You, on the other hand, please continue your life as usual.

“Be occupied and keep your mind distracted instead of worrying about it each minute,” he advises.

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