Beautiful streets art in Penang
Located at the intersection of Asia’s great kingdoms and Europe’s powerful colonial empires, Penang has long served as a link between Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The island’s rich history has resulted in a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences, making it one of the most diverse and fascinating places to visit in Malaysia.
The culmination of Penang’s cultural fusion is the charismatic city of George Town, a favorite with visitors owing to its quaint Chinese shop houses and Old World charm.
It is in an alley behind one of George Town’s picturesque streets that I find myself ankle-deep in sewer sludge, staring into the eyes of a rat the size of small horse. I am on the trail of Penang’s famed street art murals, and have become so absorbed in staring up at the sides of buildings that, by the time I spot the broken drain cover, it’s too late.
As I lean against the wall to wipe off my sludge-covered shoes, I realise that my hand is covering the faded face of a cat. I’ve stumbled – literally – upon Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s mischievous painting of Bruce Lee karate-kicking a cat, titled “The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This”. Thrilled with my discovery, I mark it on my street art map.
Penang gained its unexpected status as a street art hub in 2012, when Zacharevic was commissioned to paint a series of public murals for the George Town Festival. His paintings, many of which combine objects such as swings, motorcycles and existing architectural features, became an instant hit, and the iconic “Little children on a bicycle” is now a tourist destination in its own right, with visitors queuing up down the narrow lane to pose for selfies.
Away from the more popular works, however, searching for the murals – which can be found all over the city – is a satisfying way to spend an afternoon, as well as a great reason to explore some of George Town’s quieter areas. Now several years old, many of the paintings have begun to fade, flake and, sadly, in the case of Zacharevic’s famous “Boy on a bike” in 2015, become vandalised. This makes it no less satisfying when you find one, however, hidden above a door frame or beneath tangled tree roots on a quiet backstreet, like “The Old Indian Lady”.
George Town’s mish-mash of 19th-century churches, temples, mosques and well-preserved heritage buildings earned it the prized title of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 2008, and a self-guided street art tour is an ideal way to discover the city’s various cultural districts.