It was a heartbreaking elimination, especially for viewers who had embraced #TeamPanda ever since Sai-Wai walked into the competition.
Sai-Wai has always loved drawing, joking that it was her “gateway” into crafting, throughout her career she saw it as a ‘backup skill’ that led to her working as an illustrator for fashion, print design, cartooning and concept drawings for toys among other things. That paired with her natural curiosity for destruction and how things are put together made her a natural Maker.
“It started there, and then my mother thought it was a good idea to get in touch with my Chinese roots, to get me to do Chinese ink painting and watercolour painting to channel some of my crazy energy,” Sai-Wai told 10 play. “It was the one thing she could get me to do to sit still.”
With about 20 years of experience in the fashion industry, Sai-Wai shifted her focus to building her art and sculpture practice, using her time in fashion to inform how she creates and thinks about her creations.
“When you’re designing fashion it’s worked around the human body, so that’s a 3D form. You have to consider everything in the round, so I think that’s my approach to most things, I approach them in the round and I think about the materials, how they are being used and the type of stories they tell as well.”
That conceptual approach to her designs and creations came alive during Making It on Thursday when the Makers were tasked with creating a self-portrait using unconventional materials: food.
“I treated it as more of an art piece, I probably went a little bit conceptual,” she said, laughing
“When they said self-portrait, I didn’t just go for face value, I’m not that sort of person. I’ve spent my whole life not wanting to play into what is face value.”
While many Makers created versions of their own likeness through food, be it a 2D portrait using food to create a picture, or making a caricature or avatar of themselves out of foods, Sai-Wai instead opted to create a piece she called ‘Heart and Soul’, a visual representation of herself where her heart would literally be in her hands.
“What I wanted to do was something that really told my story and who I am… I approached it from the perspective of those old-style Dutch paintings where every single object in there has a meaning and that’s the look I was going for.”
Using foods that Sai-Wai grew up with, foods that nurture her and have a history for her and her family, she attempted to make casts of her hands using candy melts that would cradle her heart. Representing her hands in the piece was not just to symbolise her greatest tools as a Maker, but also to represent the struggles she has had with her hands in the past.
“Combined with my Asian heritage — I think this can be said for not just anyone from the Asian diaspora but any migrant background — food is love and food is care.
“You don’t ask people how they are, you ask them if they have eaten.”
Every single item in the piece had a reason behind it. Rambutans harkening back to the tree in her garden in Malaysia growing up, the tea her family drinks, turmeric that helped with the swelling in her wrists. Even the giant leaves she used were from a ginger plant she wild foraged.
“I’m used to a level of subtlety to my work… I don’t think my art practices were made for television,” she added, laughing.
Unfortunately, the humidity on the day meant that the casts of her hands hadn’t set properly and she had to think quickly for a plan B.
Having just come off the high of winning the last Master Craft, Sai-Wai said after hearing the judges feedback of her piece, she had a feeling her time in the competition was coming to an end.
“As much as I thought I knew I was going home, I wasn’t sad because I was going… I was sad because I was leaving this amazing bunch of people and I hadn’t felt like I had shown off enough yet, I hadn’t shown enough of what I could do.
“While it kills me that I didn’t show what I was imagining with my original sculpture self-portrait,” Sai-Wai continued, “I was really happy with what I put up. I think it was really beautiful and I still stand by that.”
Through the competition, having the opportunity to embrace the range of skills she has and showcase them within the challenges, Sai-Wai finally began to feel more comfortable identifying herself as an artist.
“I’ve always been okay with calling myself a designer or illustrator, but artist is one thing I wasn’t comfortable with. It was my own self-doubt, and that happens to the best of us,” she explained.
“I know some incredibly talented, very established artists that still suffer from this idea of imposter syndrome… for me, going into that environment and doing what I do, and going actually I’m really good at it. We don’t celebrate ourselves enough.”
Part of the reason why Sai-Wai wanted to compete on the show in the first place was to inspire a whole new generation of Asian creatives.
“We need to see more of us on television, because if you don’t see it how can you be it? I thought this is a platform that I could potentially get on, and to actually do it and go yeah alright! Let’s bring it! All the Asian creatives, all the women. Bring it! You can do it!”
Watch Making It Australia on Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30pm on 10 and 10 play on demand