Many cities around the world are famous for street art. Berlin embraces it throughout the city, Bristol has the world-famous Banksy putting up new work all the time, and Ghent has a single corridor dedicated to an ever-changing mural depicting current events. The street art of George Town in Penang, Malaysia serves a slightly different purpose. Here, twisted iron and three-dimensional, interactive artwork depicts the city’s history.
George Town is the second largest city in Malaysia after the capital of Kuala Lumpur. Since 2008, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And speaking of heritage, this city has a fascinating history. It started off in 1786 as one of the first British settlements in SE Asia. Since then, the city has had distinct influence by the Chinese, as well as many other local cultures. As a result, the city is a potpourri of architecture and cuisine.
In 2012, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created six works of art, each a combination of painting and sculpture, to depict the lifestyle and culture of the local inhabitants. Since then, works of art have sprung up everywhere, including several dozen wrought iron sculptures giving historical facts about streets and districts throughout the city.
One of the most photographed works of art is the “Kids on a Bicycle,” located on Armenian Street.
“Boy on a Motorcycle” is located one street away on Lebuh Ah Quee.
The rest of Ernest’s pieces are not as well known and a little harder to find. Unfortunately, a couple of them are also starting to fade due to the harsh weather conditions of Malaysia, but the “Kids on a Bicycle” was recently touched up by Ernest himself.
The wrought iron sculptures are the next main pieces of art, located all around the historic center of Old Town. In the three days I was visiting George Town, I spent many hours purposely getting lost and walking down every side street and alley I could find. Hardly a one was without a small or large sculpture. They gave the history of various streets, quality of life or trivial historical facts about the city. I was able to find more than two dozen, although I’m sure I missed plenty more.
Beyond that, local businesses have taken to creating extensive works of out both inside and out of their establishments. Sketches, paintings, murals, sculptures and other works of art can be seen everywhere, and more are going up all the time. Some are small and faded and thus easy to miss, while others are glaring or enormous, covering the entire side of a building.
One street art that really stood out to me was what I call “Cigarettes on a Wall,” although part of the artwork had been defaced.
Due to the constant creation, alteration and destruction of the art work, no article or map can list them all. But they don’t need to. There will be enough when you visit Penang to keep you busy for hours finding them all and getting your pictures taken. There are some walking tours you can join, but my advice is to follow in my footsteps. Well, figuratively at least, since even my GPS wasn’t able to keep up with everywhere I went on the streets. Take your time, and know that even the smallest, dead-end alleys probably have some work of art to marvel at. Have fun!
When you’re ready to head south, here’s how to get a bus from Penang to Kuala Lumpur.