Three artists share their creative pursuit of tiny things that celebrate Malaysia’s cultural kaleidoscope

Diorama exhibitions can transport viewers to diverse settings and historical periods.

One of the displays at the MinNature gallery in Sungei Wang Plaza, Kuala Lumpur (Photo: MinNature Malaysia)

This Malaysia Day, immerse yourself in the diverse and vibrant traditions, customs and landscapes that define the building blocks of this country, brought to life in two unique diorama exhibitions that offer a captivating window into the world of miniaturised storytelling and creative expression.

These meticulously crafted three-dimensional scenes transport viewers to diverse settings and historical periods, often capturing moments in intricate detail. Diorama artists painstakingly assemble miniature figures, landscapes and props to convey narratives, whether it is a historical event, natural wonder or cultural tableau.

Diorama exhibitions provide a unique opportunity for audiences to immerse themselves in these miniature worlds, gaining a profound appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship involved. As visitors explore these tiny masterpieces, they get a glimpse of the heart and soul of Malaysia, where a harmonious blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian and indigenous influences create a unique and enchanting cultural mosaic.

The Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur is extending an invitation to relive the childhood memory of queueing up for a plate of char kway teow or stopping for a quick Malaysian brekkie at the mamak stall through an exhibition at South Palm on the ground floor. One of the artists involved is Eric Siow of MiniARTure Concepts.

In 2011, Siow ventured into the world of miniature food when he attended basic sculpting classes in Singapore. His newfound passion for miniaturisation led him to refine his skills over the years, drawing knowledge from clay crafting magazines, online tutorials and expert advice on social media.


Siow ventured into the world of miniature food when he attended basic sculpting classes in Singapore (Photo: Eric Siow)

After a business trip to Penang in October 2015, where he explored various museums, Siow was inspired by the life-sized artwork on display. This experience sparked an idea to merge his expertise in miniatures with the world of art. With confidence in his abilities, he decided to commit to this endeavour full-time and founded his own outfit, aiming to create collectible art pieces on a much smaller scale.

“These days, many people refurbish or decorate their restaurants, cafés and food courts with a touch of nostalgia because it evokes cherished memories, as people appreciate bygone times. It’s the same reason I am inspired to capture that very moment and freeze it. I want to preserve as many scenes from the old eateries as possible and present them in miniature form,” he explains.

The main challenge Siow faces is the lack of references and information as well as the sourcing of materials and props. “Shipment of dioramas to clients can be trying too. Another challenge I want to mention on behalf of other local diorama artists is the awareness of this artform in Malaysia, which is relatively low. Some had never heard of it until they saw it at my exhibition,” he says.

Apart from doing dioramas, Siow conducts clay food workshops in KL and Singapore, sells miniature food souvenirs at business affiliates’ galleries and customises clay food shadow boxes.

The other artist, Lim Pui Wan of PicoWorm, takes us back to happier times. Her rendition of Ban Fong Provision Shop, with its shelf full of biscuit tins and classic gashapon vending machines, just tugs at your heartstrings.


Lim of PicoWorm (Photo: Lim Pui Wan)

“This artwork holds a deep personal significance for me as it represents the start of my artistic journey. Created for a competition in Taiwan back in 2014/15, I dedicated countless hours to crafting every element from scratch, pushing myself to develop new skills and techniques in order to create a piece worthy of the competition,” she recalls.

The inspiration came from a biscuit shop she used to pass by daily while studying there. “During my wait for the bus, I often stopped to buy biscuits and snacks. The shop’s nostalgic ambiance and connection to my childhood resonated deeply with me. I believe many Malaysians can relate to the nostalgia and fond memories associated with these snacks.”

“I always believe miniature isn’t merely small; it also brings life to us. I pay close attention to realism and strive to evoke a sense of nostalgia through miniature art. Each piece is designed and hand-sculpted with so much effort and enthusiasm.”

Another piece on display is The Old Place, an old-school barbershop recreated from an actual shop in Kampung Jawa, Melaka, which comes complete with mosaic floor tiles, a horse-racing calendar on the wall and Master Q comics. Lim spent a lot of time here, taking photos and having countless chats with the barber who sadly passed away during the pandemic. The shop is now closed for good. “Through this artwork, I hope to honour the memory of the barber, his passion for his craft and the cultural heritage embodied by his barbershop,” she says.

And across the city, tucked away in good ol’ Sungei Wang Plaza is a TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice for 2023-listed attraction that focuses on miniatures. The inner workings of MinNature Malaysia were started by a bunch of artists in October 2018.

“Essentially, the curations were based mostly on my personal anecdotal experiences. It was easy to curate the stories as there were no oversights or restrictions we had to worry about. We self-funded the gallery and this gave us total control of what we wanted to showcase, and our goal was purely to tell the stories of Malaysia,” says Wan Cheng Huat, the project lead of this gallery.


Wan leads the MinNature gallery in Sungei Wang Plaza (Photo: Wan Cheng Huat)

With no prior experience making miniatures or running a gallery, he — together with self-taught artists Chan Chee Wing, Janice Chin Sze Ch’ing, Tan Hon Sen, Ng Jef Fre and Brian Tan — began building the exhibits bit by bit through endless trial and error. Their mastery of the craft is so brilliant that, on occasion, viewers are unable to distinguish the miniatures from actual objects when seen in photographs or videos.

“I really hope the miniatures we have here at MinNature Malaysia can help foster the love and pride of being Malaysian. In recent years, we’ve seen some sort of division, and it’s sad. We want to use our miniatures to subtly remind people of our identity within this multiracial country and give them hope. If we don’t appreciate and protect it, no one else will,” says Wan.

There are four main sections here. One is purely dedicated to the food culture of Malaysia (of course!) and another is a large-scale diorama of lifestyles. Here, one would be able to get a glimpse of kampung life, Chinatown and a kelong (floating platform built in the middle of the sea for fishing or fish farming). There is a section dedicated to the heritage buildings and architecture of Malaysia, separated following the different states in the country.

“And finally, we have the ‘people of Malaysia’ area with about 30 pairs of miniature Malaysians in their traditional attire coupled with some fun facts. We are planning to add another 30 pairs of outfits in the next three years,” says the 41-year-old who just wants to share with the world how beautifully unique our culture and heritage are.

The exhibition at The Gardens Mall ends on Sept 17 while MinNature Malaysia is a permanent gallery on Level 1, Sungei Wang Plaza, Kuala Lumpur. For more information, visit

This article first appeared on Sept 11, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.



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