Authored by Anitha Thanabalan (Contributor)
Everywhere that you turn in Penang, you will see some metal sculpture or mural on the wall. The whole idea was to enhance the streets and add some flair with a little Penang graffiti.
The history of Penang is a fascinating one. The modern history of the Malaysian City only started in 1786 because Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company landed on Penang Island which is where Fort Cornwallis now stands. For Light, Penang was the ideal place to be because it was in the middle of the maritime trade routes between China and India. It made it a convenient place for trade and an ideal place for French and Dutch expansion in Southeast Asia.
The British influence is so high, that the street names in Penang have English names for example; the city itself is called Georgetown. There are streets here like Lorong Buckingham, Armenian Street, Leith Street, etc.
Because Penang dates back so long to the 1700s, a lot of buildings are rundown and wearing thin. Since that time, the people have tried to renovate the buildings to bring a stunning touch, with artists and muralists alike, attempting to enhance Georgetown’s position as the street capital of Malaysia.
A Breakdown of the Best Street Art in Penang
Since 2008, Georgetown has been listed as a World Heritage Site, because of that, the Penang art has developed at a rapid rate. In 2009, cartoonists such as Tang Mun Kian and Baba Chuah wanted to help bring awareness to the history of the street by adding the stories of road and social history through the use of caricatures, now, there are metal caricatures that have been set up all over the city for everyone to see and it looks splendid.
The iron caricatures blend humour and historical facts that describe the colloquial demeanour of early settlement days that gave a memorable history to each of those streets of Georgetown Penang. They depict the daily lives of the people where those landmarks start at this moment.
In 2012, London-trained Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was asked and commissioned to paint a collection of Penang wall murals around the inner city, and you can see them all over Georgetown. The project sparks interest with the locals and more and more local artists are starting to add murals to the walls of Georgetown.
Now, rather than walking around aimlessly, most hostels and hotels will have a brochure of all the street art, so that you can go on a scavenger hunt around the town and take photos of all of the murals and sculptures. Being interested in the Penang street art myself, I was excited to start my tour so with a fresh coffee and my brochure in hand, I was ready for an adventure around Georgetown to see all the street art.
Below, is a selection of what I found in the Penang Street Art tour.
The Narrow Walkways lead to the most exceptional Wall Street Art in Penang
For people that don’t already know. Shoe designer Jimmy Choo is actually from Penang, and because of this, this metal sculpture describes his start in shoe designing. The Penang Jimmy Choo is located on the corner of Lebuh Leith and Lebuh Muntri and is number one on the scavenger hunt.
Located on Lorong Stewart, it’s a famous walkway because it claims to be a five-foot walkway, but just from the picture, you can see that it is the narrowest walkway in Penang and it is connected to the Wan Hai Hotel in Georgetown.
History states that back in the day, the rich husbands of Muntri Street used to come to Love Lane, which used to be a street filled with brothels, to sleep with their mistresses. So, it is clear that the artists truly embraced that idea with this metal sculpture of a husband climbing out a window.
Love Lane Penang Street Art has now become a hub for backpackers and travellers because of the abundance of bars and hostels on the street. This metal sculpture depicts that perfectly, but the history of this street has changed in the past few years.
Incredible Penang Wall Murals
There are so many different wall murals around the city, and you need to look for closely the creative art because some are hidden and out of plain sight.
Another amazing thing to see around Georgetown are the murals that are painted on the Penang wall. Some are pretty faded, and you can tell that they have been there for a very long time, but there are some that have made Penang what it is now and don’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Little Children on a Bicycle is a Penang mural that was painted by Ernest Zacharevic on the wall of a shophouse on Armenian street, and it depicts a little girl taking her younger brother on a bicycle ride and the joy on their faces provide cheer and adds character to Armenian street. The cool thing about this mural is that he used three-dimensional objects to add some flair to the painting.
Old motorbike is another example of how Zacharevic uses three-dimensional objects to add something more to the painting. You can find this mural on Ah Quee Street. It depicts a boy that is waiting on his bike as he watches pedestrian traffic. Ah Quee street has another one of Zacharevic’s painting along with a 3D form of cigarettes sitting out of the wall.
There are many murals and art installations around the city; all you have to do is walk around and see al the street art on offer in the popular city of Malaysia.