George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang, has been attracting tourists and travellers from all over the globe for a long time. However, its street art scene boomed in 2012. That year Ernest Zacharevicm, a Lithuanian artist, created 6 wall paintings during the celebration of the annual George Town festival. These murals soon became worldwide famous, to the point where one of them, Children on a Bicycle, is one the most photographed spots of the city.
Today, years later, the old town is full of murals. The trend that Ernest Zacharevic started kept growing, making the street art scene of George Town blossom. Now, international artists are invited to go there and leave their mark in the old town. There are so many that the city is now one of the international capitals of street art. And it shows! Walking through the centre is like a scavenger hunt, trying to find not only all the original murals of Zacharevic but all the ones you can spot.
STREET ART IS NOW INTEGRAL TO GEORGE TOWN
The original Ernest Zacharevic works and, no doubt, beautiful, clever and funny. He was called ‘Asia’s Banksy’, and while his content is definitely not political, his works can be open to interpretation. For instance, one of the main themes is the depictions of the daily life of the town. One can only wonder about the whereabouts of all the men, women and children painted in the walls. I think that, in a way, it lets you learn about the people and culture of the city.
Ernest Zacharevic kickstarted a movement that put the street art of George Town on the map. However, despite the huge popularity of his works, we can’t forget the other ones that populate the town. With different degrees of success, other artists have tried to leave their mark in the walls of George Town, and every year there are more of them.
It is pretty clear that street art is now integral to George Town. It’s in every corner of every street. And something I like to enjoy is cathing all the similarities between them. I personally enjoy the sense of mundanity and familiarity I get from watching them. I like the joy on the faces of the children or the distracted look of a man packing food for a family.
My favourite was, probably, Boy on a Bike, located in Ah Quee Street. I don’t know why I liked it so much. Maybe it was the very ingenious use of a real bike. Maybe the expression of the boy, or maybe how beautifully framed is by the red door. It just struck me the moment I saw it. The use of real props is also seen in other works of Zacharevic, and the trend was continued by other artists.
AN EVER-EXPANDING ART SCENE
With the years, street art has also spread outside the town centre. While the old town is still where most of the murals are, artists are increasingly moving outside it. After all, the city centre is pretty crowded already. Going a bit further away is a good opportunity to find a new wall to use as a canvas.
Near my hotel, which wasn’t exactly near the old town, I saw a beautiful mural of a man selling food to a family in a street food stand, surrounded by cats. Cats are, by the way, another of the recurring themes of the murals. Especially in the Armenian street where you can find a good amount of cat-themed paintings.
While the mural near my hotel was (or at least looked) fairly new, the original Ernest Zacharevic works are sadly fading. In a few years, they will be probably gone, weathered away by the elements. In the five years that passed when I visited George Town the damage was clearly visible, and it’s only getting worst. That is, however, the nature of street art.
A PERSONAL NOTE
To anyone visiting George Town, don’t miss the huge opportunity that is watching these murals. The street art covering the city is one of its biggest sights. While there is definitely lots to do in town, I loved wandering around looking for a mural especially beautiful or inspiring. The city feels like a great open-air museum. And it’s free!
If you are thinking about going there, there is a fantastic online map that shows most of the street artworks. You can find it here, feel free to explore George Town and do this particular scavenger hunt! I personally think discovering these artworks is better without a big group. So I would recommend going by yourselves, with your partner or with friends. But, most importantly, have fun!