Which destination comes first to your mind when you think about Malaysia? Probably Kuala Lumpur and Penang island? No? Something else? Then, great! :). Of course, there are more places to visit but my 2 mentioned are advertised most and more information you can find about it. This time my outlook goes to street art in Penang island (how to get there).
One of the reasons why Penang became famous, is because George Town was included as a protected UNESCO heritage site in 2008. As well, lately, George Town streets were “decorated” by the interesting, unique murals. Some people think that street art in Penang ruins the heritage, others – that it’s the thing which attracts more people to come and also should be developed in the future. Like in the rest of the world – you can adore street art or hate it: D. So how is it? But maybe before answer, you should know how street art came to Penang streets.
In the very beginning
As written in timeout.com – Kuala Lumpur based art company, “Sculpture at Work” won the rights to the state government’s commissioned art challenge “Marking George Town: An Idea Competition for UNESCO World Heritage Site” in 2009. Sculpture’s creative director Tang Mun Kian knew this was the start of the largest art assignment in the state. “Marking George Town’s” brief was a matter of “we have this city, what can you do with it?.
“The streets of George Town were named after the trades, people, and events, which means every street has its own unique story. With the rising rental, many of the original inhabitants moved out and with them, the stories as well” Tang discovers. “So, the idea is to put the stories back into the city” he adds. Within the confines of their workshop, every single steel diorama was bent and shaped to bring stories and inspiration to life.
Even if some murals were made during 3 years period. The first step which made street art in Penang famous was the project “Mirrors George Town” for George Town Festival 2012. In this festival Lithuanian young artist Ernest “ZACH” Zacharevic was invited to lead this project (and it seems it was the beginning of his international carrier). There are 6 murals made by him for this project (at least those who are named – hope he left more marks there that people still need to discover and be surprised:)). Truly, his 1st mural in “Love Lane” street was made in 2011, before he attended the project. It was a portrait of an Indian woman but people’s response wasn’t so positive back then. The rest of the 6 Zach murals were made already under the project. After it, even the BBC called him “Malaysia’s answer to Banksy”.
I’m happy that Ernest is making the Lithuanian name famous in the world (like I’m originally as well from Lithuania :)). Honestly, the first time I heard about Ernest when I saw the news in Lithuania, in 2012. It was a presentation of his works for street art in Penang. At that time I thought “Malaysia it’s so far”, so I just forgot it. Only coming to Penang and see some of his murals (first I didn’t know that it’s his works) I was really amazed by the concept, playful, colorful, and joyful murals. It made me smile and later become more interested in the authors, it was time to remember Zach name again. And then I thought – “Wow – we (Lithuania) have really talented people”. Just somehow Lithuanians doesn’t know or forget talented people easily :( (in George Town festival 2014 participated and another Lithuanian artist – Antanas Dubra).
How street art in Penang looks now?
It’s growing! You can find murals, other works in the busy street markets, shops, and undiscovered corners of famous attractions to surprise you.
Without first works now in Penang you can see as well groups of projects (it just part of pictures):
- “101 lost kittens” – exhibits of 12 cats, the work of a group of artists which calls themselves ASA (Artists for Stray Animals). It was created under George Town festival in 2013.
- “Marking George Town” – it’s 52 iron structures abundance throughout George Town, and were actually commissioned by the Penang tourism board to provide a fun pictorial anecdote about the history of the street it is located on and is a rather fun way to learn a little bit about Penang’s heritage. As well was a “product” of the 2013 year festival.
- 16 new murals “Urban exchange” made for the 2014 year festival out of Georg Town.
- Others: There are many different street artworks besides those listed above, some by random artists and others commissioned by the local tenants. As well some of the works made under project aims, others just originate by not known people (I could describe like “illegal” once) :).
What are my discoveries of street art in Penang?
First, my idea was to go by the mapped route of murals (you can find printed maps in the Tourism information center, almost in all staying places) but then I changed my mind. I started the walk and discovered that I can see more just looking around. Here are some murals I saw and I couldn’t find information about them. I believe that when you will go to Penang, you already will find new pieces as well. I really liked how souvenir shops, cafes were trying to adapt to the street art concept and made something unique in front of their places.
Of course, I saw and the famous murals but not all :). Unfortunately, some of them already vanishing so you can pass by without seeing them. But if you see groups stopping somewhere – it can be a hint – that there is something to see :). So you need to hurry up if you want to see all murals from 2012. As well some the places even if the market in the map – not so easy to find – you need to go inside the yards, go to people living places.
- You can make a street art tour by walking, renting a bicycle (rentals are easy to find, price ~15RM), or using local transport trishaw.
- Tour better to start in the early morning, it’s not so hot and doesn’t forget to take with you water.
- If you want to go by street art route according to the map – you can see all places within half of the day (if you like to walk fast or want to rent a bicycle). If you want to see more places, have just a relaxed walk – then 1-1,5 day for this can be enough.
- Be curious and go inside small streets, turn to yards and everywhere where your eyes will see – then you can discover more.
- If for you won’t be enough just street art – visit as well “Hin Bus Depot Art Centre”.
- There are many places you can stay in Penang, we stayed in 75 Travellers Lodge, Central George Town. It’s a good location, cheap place (dormitory and private rooms).
So what do you think – should street art in Penang be allowed in such old parts of town or should be protected?
Honestly, I’m for street art that has a concept and coalesce with a surrounding. It gives more value, shows the history and modern art collaboration. But if it’s made just for fun, without an idea, made in a bad way and destroy heritage – then for sure no. Even in some parts of street art in Penang, I saw some “works” (probably made by youngsters) that didn’t have any charm at all.