In my opinion, Penang wins hands-down anytime over Kuala Lumpur and this beautiful island is full of interesting things to do. I simply love it there: the food, the old city, the culture, and the tons of outdoor activities. However, topping the list is Georgetown Penang street art, and it ranks as one of the island’s prime tourist attractions. What I love most about the street art of this interesting Malaysian town is how concentrated they are and how you can spot beautiful wall art at nearly every nook and corner of Georgetown.
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The beginning of Georgetown Penang street art
Georgetown Penang street art history is relatively young. It all started in 2008 when Georgetown received the prestigious title of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The title kicked off a beautification drive in the city and in 2009 the first art project called Making George Town was kicked off. This project included only cartoon steel rod sculptures that depicted the local lives of Georgetown residents in days gone by. Some of these metal sculptures can still be found throughout the city today. 2012 saw the beginning of the art project called Mirrors George Town. It is this project that invited the Lithuanian-born artist Ernest ‘Zach’ Zacharevic to paint 6 pieces for the annual Georgetown Festival. This Georgetown Penang street art project rocketed the Malaysian city on the tourism map and these murals attracted hipsters travelers in hordes. They became the must-see attractions of Georgetown and influenced many such projects in the following years. While Ernest Zach’s street art depicted the lives of the local people, the 2013 project called Artists for Stray Animals raised awareness for stray animals. It was called the 101 Lost Kittens. 2014 saw a former bus depot being turned into an art center and the Hin Bus Depot collaborated with Urban Nation for the Urban Xchange: Crossing Over street art project that drew many street artists from all over the world. The same year, Russian artist Julia Volchkova started painting the city walls with many beautiful murals. These were influenced by the local culture and beautifully captured the soul of the island state. In 2018, China House inaugurated Art Lane Penang – an alley full of street art, and Georgetown Penang street art created headlines in the artsy world.
The quirky “Mirrors George Town” project
No Georgetown Penang street art list can be complete without mentioning the famous works by Ernest Zacharevic. He started the “Mirrors George Town” to show the multicultural local life of the city and some famous artwork under this project are as follows:
- Kids on a bicycle – Nominated as one of the top 15 wall paintings in the world, this Ernest Zacharevic masterpiece showcases fun moments kids share when playing together. Location – Armenia Street, Core Zone, Georgetown
- Kung Fu Girl – This larger-than-life painting shows a girl doing some martial art moves and depicts the power of a woman. Location – Jalan Muntri, Buffer Zone, Georgetown
- Trishaw Man – Another larger-than-life mural shows a man riding a trishaw, a local mode of transportation. Location – Jalan Penang, Buffer Zone, Georgetown
Best of Georgetown Penang street art
Start at Chew Jetty, and slowly walk your way to the famous Armenian Street. This way you will see the most famous and the oldest murals along with some brand new works. The Georgetown Penang street art that is not to be missed is as follows:
- Folklore by the Sea – Created by Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong tells the story of the settlers from China who built their homes at the Penang waterfront in the 1880s.
- Ah mah and Ah soon – This one shows a happy grandma (ah mah) and grandson (ah soon).
- Brother and Sister on the Swing – This interactive street art is one of the most famous Georgetown sights. Created by deaf-mute self-taught artist Louis Gan Yee Loong, the children in the painting are the kids of the owner of the printing firm SBS Paper Products. It is located near Beach Street.
- Children playing Basketball – Another Louis Gan work, this one is located in the street across from the swing mural, at the back of the old Kwong Wah Yit Poh building.
- I Want Bao! – This beautiful piece of work is at Lebuh Armenian (Armenian Street). This is commercial work. This street art was commissioned by Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop and was by painted by Kuala Lumpur-born artist WK Setor on the occasion of the Chinese New Year. The kids shown here are the pastry shop owner’s children.
- Boy on a Bike – Located at Beach Street, the boy on the motorcycle is one of the original Ernest Zacharevic pieces for Mirror George Town.
- Teach You Hokkien – This huge 8.20-foot boy yells that he will teach the Chinese dialect of Hokkien.
- Wo Ai Nee Chinese Malay Indian – Celebrating the racial diversity of Georgetown, This mural also called Cultural Girls George Town shows a Chinese, Malay, and Indian girl.
- Lion Dance / Chinese Dragon
Cat 101 Lost Kittens Art Project
Found all around the famous Armenian Street, some 13-ish murals showcase a specific subject: cats. Started as a part of the George Town Festival in 2013 by Artists for Stray Animals (ASA), the aim of this project was to raise awareness for stray animals, and ever since, many more such cat-murals have appeared. Some of the most famous ones are as follows:
- The Giant Cat Mural / Skippy Comes to Penang
- Please Care and Bathe Me
- Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat
- I Can Help Catch Rats
- Cats Walking for Awareness
Other famous Georgetown Penang street art
- Indian Boatman – One of the masterpieces of Julia Volchkova, it took her 10 days to finish, and it is a tribute to the Indian heritage of Penang.
- The Awaiting Trishaw Paddler / Trishaw Man – Another original Ernest piece, this larger-than-life mural was also part of the Mirrors George Town project.
NOTE – “Writings on the Walls” is an ongoing series in which I hope to collate awesome street art from around the world. If you wish to collaborate, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can take it from there.
Follow the rest of the street art series
- STREET ART IN COLOGNE
- STREET ART IN SINGAPORE
- KOCHI STREET ART
- STREET ART IN DELHI
- STREET ART IN CAIRO
- STREET ART IN FAYYOUM IN EGYPT
- STREET ART IN DAHAB
- STREET ART IN MUMBAI
- ZAGREB STREET ART
- BANGALORE STREET ART
- BRUSSELS STREET ART
- STREET ART IN TWO AMERICAN CITIES
- GHENT STREET ART
- BERLIN STREET ART
- BERLIN URBAN ART PHOTO ESSAY
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