Admirable mural art

Mural artist Daphne Siaw brings a fresh perspective to wall art by infusing modern colour and style into ethnic traditional art

07 Jan 2021 / 11:59 H.

MURAL art involves more than just painting a wall. The art depicts a message, captures a moment in time, and sometimes creates awareness.

“Wall art, just like other art forms, [represents] the culture of our time. It could be a moment, a memory, or something that matters to someone, at a point of time,” said Sarawak-born artist Daphne Siaw Ai Lin.

It shows where we are (now) and the trend or lifestyle which our society used to enjoy, at a particular period of time or era,” added the 31-year-old muralist.

“Apart from being a form of interior or exterior decoration, wall art needs to fit into the practicality of its surroundings and serve its purpose, even if it is about just giving a good feeling.”

Love for Sarawak

For Siaw, a much sought-after artist who has worked on about 90 walls, Sarawak’s ethnic cultural art and craft will never go out of style.

“The uniqueness of each ethnic group in multi-cultural and diverse Sarawak, including the friendly, warm harmony among different ethnicities, makes me feel proud to share what we have, especially in terms of style, colours, and traditional patterns,” she said.

Although Siaw is guided by modern colours, flow and fluidity, it’s largely Sarawak’s traditional and intricately-designed art that is her main influence.

“I always try to bring in traditional elements into modern art with a fresh new range of colours, styles and context, whenever I have the freedom.

“I include Sarawak cultural elements, as I feel that what really distinguishes us from the rest of the art and culture we grew up with,” she said.

“I would include Dayak Tree of Life and Pua Kumbu elements by infusing traditional patterns and colours into my modern art.

“For example, the Tree of Life pattern traditionally has earthy colours like white, black, red, brown, yellow and orange, but I experiment with purple and blue, for a change.”

Siaw admires how modern styles of form and colour create new and fluid shapes.

“I prefer to let the art flow, instead of cutting off at one point, abruptly. Hence, a lot of curves and waves and continuity can be seen in my work,” said Siaw, who has a degree in marketing.

Before she starts to paint on a wall, Siaw considers the size, design, environment and purpose of the art.

For murals, her choice of mediums depends on the surface of the wall. Water-based wall paint is used for a cement wall.

“Normally, I would go to the location and observe the surroundings, interior or exterior, and I would sketch the overall form of the art piece,” she said.

Although wall art means having a large canvas to work on, Siaw loves the feeling of completing a task and seeing the end result.

She is also encouraged by the appreciation of the audience, which motivates her to excel even more.

In fact, some of her work is particularly close to her heart, such as the unique two-storey-high line art portraits of Moto and F1 racing legends Valentino Rossi and Ayrton Senna that can be seen at the Feast and Furious Cafe in Kuching.

Initially, she had no art style in mind, so she let her thoughts flow freely through her hands, and it turned out well.

Another project that made an impact on her was her mural on the Sarawak General Hospital (SGH).

“This project had a personal connection with me. My mother passed away from cancer, and just the thought of being able to take others’ minds off their pain, [comforted me],” she confessed.

Besides murals, Siaw also paints portraits with acrylic paint, watercolour and pencil.

At the beginning

Siaw did not plan to be an artist, although she has loved drawing ever since she was a child. Her passion for art came after she started working in an architecture firm.

“It was one of the most impactful moments of my career, in the creative industry. I never thought I would be an artist. It was never something that was encouraged,” she said.

“The job found me when I started sharing my artwork on Facebook, and then on my blog (”

She chose to become a full-time artistafter completing the project at the Feast and Furious Cafe in 2016.

“I started with little confidence because I was never educated in art and design. I didn’t know if I could actually help people, creatively. I simply knew how to draw and paint, and loved experimenting with different mediums and styles.”

Since then, Siaw has not looked back, and has travelled throughout Malaysia and even Singapore for mural art projects.

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