On the day we arrived in George Town, the capital of the Malaysian island on Penang, our homestay handed us a map of the area. This map featured not just the infamous street art, but the locations of the wrought iron sculptures which are dotted all over town. Whilst wandering around the City, we started to spot some of them and ticked them off on our map … very quickly and unconsciously, we were hooked!
When we realised that we were actively seeking the next sculpture or piece of art on our map, it dawned on us how much we were enjoying this “art treasure hunt”.
But what is it about the street art that appealed to us, and draws in millions of other tourists, each year?
However, it isn’t the competition winning idea that draws the crowds; it’s the painted street murals and ever-growing wall art. Some pieces are “official” and have names, so wherever possible I have listed their title. Aside from the murals, there many different projects which make up George Town art, this link provides more detail.
We were staying on Muntri Street off Love Lane which, (in my opinion) is a really cool part of George Town. Our Heritage Homestay was in an area that had some of the most photographed steel-rod caricature sculptures and murals, including “Jimmy Choo”, “Cheating Husband” and the Kung-Fu Girl Street Art.
If you are wondering what on earth Jimmy Choo (the famous fashion designer) has to do with George Town’s heritage, he was actually born here to a family of shoemakers in 1948. His father taught him to make shoes and it is believed he made his first pair when he was only 11 years old; he is currently involved in a project to set up a shoe-making institute in Malaysia.
Street Art is what Penang is famous for and is clearly popular with tourists. I would definitely recommend it to everyone as it’s a fun and unique way of navigating around the back streets and discovering the main areas without really trying. Most hotels/hostels have a map with art locations marked out so it’s easy enough for you to find them yourself by walking around and enjoying the experience, alternatively, you can download a pdf brochure here which lists 15 of the most famous.
When visiting the street art, please remember that they are exposed to the elements, therefore some are fading or are stained and for others, the walls around them crumbling.
The “official” pieces were painted by the Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic, however there are other popular murals by the Russian Julia Volchkova and Malaysian Louis Gan,
Cats are the most popular street art. The capital of Malaysian Borneo’s Sarawak region is called Kuching which means cat in Malay … there’s a little fact of the day for you! These murals were created by ASA (Artists for Stray Animals) and drawn by Malaysian artists Tang Yeok Khang and Louise Low and Thai artist Natthaton Muangkliang. Their aim is to draw attention to the plight of stray cats and dogs, encourage the community to spay and neuter their pets and to adopt or care for the city’s street cats and dogs. The murals were painted using environmentally friendly paint that is expected to wash off in a few years.
“Marking George Town” – the UNESCO World Heritage site winning project
There are 51 steel-rod sculptures dotted all over George Town (officially named “Marking George Town”), and we made it our mission to find every single one of them! Some were within walking distance but to ensure we saw them all, we hired a bicycle for RM10 (£2). If you would also like to find all of them, download your pdf map here.
Four Malaysian artists designed the sculptures, Tang Mun Kian, Baba Chuah, Reggie Lee and Lefty, all of which have a background in comic books and cartoon humour. A list of all the sculptures, their story, location and artist are explained in this excellent website.
Some of the sculptures are easy to see and read, but others are on blackened and polluted walls. As they are all in public places, sometimes you will find a car parked in front of one or a shop seller leaning boxes against them. Some are on the corner of a street and others stretch across multiple arches or walls.
For a slightly different perspective, some are lit up at night so it’s worth having a look early in the evening when there will also be less people around.
Now you have seen the different art George Town has to offer, can you see why millions of people find it so appealing? I absolutely love this idea! I believe it’s a brilliant way of getting tourists to explore areas they may not have considered and it’s done in such a fun and humorous way, it’s appeal is infectious.
For information on how to get around Penang and for travelling Penang to Kuala Lumpur, I recommend the Only By Land travel blog.
If you are travelling around Asia, we recommend you check bus, boat and train schedules ahead of time with 12Go Asia website. You can also book your tickets in advance online (as we did) to save time and hassle.
Are you a Street Art fan and have you been to Penang? Which is your favourite piece? What are your thoughts on the steel-rod caricatures? We want to know so tell us in the comment section below!
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