Marine Biologist To Artist: M'sian Uses Trash To Raise Awareness About The Environment

From a lamp to a gigantic sculpture display at an airport and mall, Japson Wong creates his artwork using only waste materials.

Cover image via Japson Wong (Provided to SAYS)

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"One man's trash is another man's treasure."

The saying could not be truer for Japson Wong, an upcycle artist and the founder of JF Production and Ecocastle.

Prior to establishing his own upcycle social enterprises, Wong was a marine biologist, an ambition he held close to his heart since he was a child

The 38-year-old said he would join nature clubs and take time to explore the wilderness. His favourite subject at school was biology.

Detailing his journey before becoming an upcycle artist, Wong shared, "Since the ocean covers 75% of the whole world and given the opportunity to study as a marine biologist at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), I just jumped into it without thinking twice.

"I learned a lot of new things as a marine scientist. We often see documentaries about dolphins or sharks overseas. But in fact, we have them in Malaysia, particularly in Sabah. Our ocean is considered to have one of the highest biodiversity in the world and it's full of wonders from the biggest to the smallest species."

Some of the sculptures created by Wong.

Image via Japson Wong (Provided to SAYS)

However, what changed the course of Wong's marine scientist vessel was not the ocean's rough waves, but marriage

Still a marine scientist at heart, the inspiration to craft upcycle artwork came when he got married in 2013. He designed his own wedding car using discarded Styrofoam and red cloth.

The over-the-top red futou and phoenix coronet (traditional Chinese headgear for men and women, respectively) immediately won praise from his friends and family on his wedding day.

The futou and phoenix coronet Wong made for his wedding.

Image via Japson Wong (Provided to SAYS)

After moving to their new house, Wong continued to make simple furniture, such as table lamps, with leftover building materials. The first artwork he completed with his newfound talent was a robolamp, which he built using leftover PVC parts.

"One piece led to another, and word spread to my friends, who encouraged me to even sell them at some festivals in town. It was fun and I loved the challenge of it. I started to look at other waste materials."

"And one day, a friend gave me some polycarbonate roofing sheet offcuts, which led me to using them to create the polygon sculptures that I make now," he said.

Some of the cool pieces created by Wong using leftover building materials.

Image via Japson Wong (Provided to SAYS)

Wong said he uses polycarbonate roofing sheets, PVC, and various metals to create sculptures under his social enterprise, JF Production

"I source my materials from factories, construction sites, hotels, households, schools, universities, and plenty of other places," he shared.

One of his favourite sculptures is Wonders of Wilderness (WOW1.0) Ocean, an oceanic display of 20 marine animals at SAG Art Space Kota Kinabalu. It is the biggest art installation in Malaysia, with sculptures recording a height of between 4ft and 40ft.

His other favourite is Earthship Glass Bottle Wall, the biggest glass bottle wall in the country at Tanjung Aru Marine Ecosystem (TAME) Center.

Wong's other impressive display of sculptures includes a colourful pangolin at the Sandakan Airport in 2018 (now located at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park), and Gigi the Giraffe located in Riverson Mall, Kota Kinabalu.

The Wonders of Wilderness (WOW1.0) Ocean display.

Image via Borneo Echo

The Wonders of Wilderness (WOW1.0) Ocean display.

Image via Sabah Art Gallery

The Earthship Glass Bottle Wall display.

Image via Tanjung Aru Marine Ecosystem Center - TAME Center (Facebook)

When asked what changes he wishes his sculptures would bring to the world, Wong said he hopes people can see trash in a different light

"Give them a second chance and they can be a very useful material not just in art, but also in our daily life," he said.

He founded JF Production in December 2014 with six friends from different fields.

What started out as a fun project to create artwork together has evolved into a driving force that raises awareness about waste recovery, marine conservation, and other environmental issues.

"Mainly, JF Production does upcycling. We collect junk, convert them into useful items, decor, and art. Occasionally, we give talks and teach people how to upcycle," said Wong.

Wong also runs another social enterprise, Ecocastle Sdn Bhd. It operates from TAME Center, an environmental awareness and education centre promoting marine and terrestrial environmental education, recycling, and upcycling.

"TAME Center provides space for events, talks, workshops, bazaars, fundraising, and unites non-governmental organisations (NGOs), social events, green groups, or businesses that focus on TAME's five key pillars: marine, wildlife, upcycle/recycle, green tech, and lastly, heritage," he explained.

Wong hopes both of his social enterprises can inspire more people to practice upcycling

"I hope more people would join our efforts, especially the younger generations, because what we do is for them. I hope they can continue and do even more from what we did," he related.

When asked how the rakyat can help to achieve the goal of his organisations, he said people should unite and think green in their everyday decisions for the sake of the future generation.

"Upcycling is just a method to recreate and repurpose waste.

"There are plenty of methods and ways to do it. It is not a one-man-show thing.

"I wish to see full support from the very top authority until the bottom (young kids' participation) in environmental conservation because it's everyone's responsibility, and everyone can do it. It's not an easy job, it would definitely make some people mad but it's for the greater good of all," Wong said.

All this month, SAYS will be featuring inspiring stories of extraordinary Malaysian changemakers in collaboration with Wiki Impact

Wiki Impact is an online platform dedicated to the impact industry. They share stories and data on issues that matter, highlighting impact-driven organisations and changemakers on the ground. Categories include poverty alleviation, social justice, gender equality, healthcare and education for all, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, impact influencers, and more!

Find out more here. 

Image via SAYS

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