If you’re a street art lover, then Penang should be at the top of your travel list. This vibrant island in Malaysia is home to some of the most incredible street art in the world, attracting tourists from all over the globe. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at Penang’s street art scene and the artists behind the incredible murals that adorn the streets. Penang’s street art scene first gained international attention in 2012 when Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to create a series of murals for the George Town Festival. These murals, which were painted on the walls of old heritage buildings, quickly became a hit with locals and tourists alike.
Why Penang is a Popular Destination for Street Art Lovers
Penang’s street art scene has exploded in popularity in recent years, with new murals popping up all over the island. The street art here is unique because it reflects the island’s diverse cultural heritage, incorporating elements of Chinese, Malay, and Indian culture into the murals.
The History of Penang’s Street Art Scene
Penang’s street art scene has a rich history that dates back to the early 2000s. It all started with a Lithuanian artist called Ernest Zacharevic who was commissioned by the Penang Municipal Council to create a series of murals as part of the George Town Festival in 2012. Zacharevic’s murals became an instant hit among locals and tourists alike, and it didn’t take long for other artists to start painting the walls of George Town.
Over the years, the street art scene in Penang has evolved and expanded, with new artists joining the movement and new murals popping up all over the city. In recent years, Penang has become a hub for street art enthusiasts, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to explore the city’s vibrant and colorful murals.
The early beginnings of street art in Penang were mostly centred around George Town’s heritage buildings and shophouses. Artists would use these old buildings as their canvas, creating beautiful murals that depicted the city’s rich history and culture. As the street art scene grew in popularity, artists started to venture beyond George Town’s heritage zone, painting murals in other parts of the city.
One of the most significant developments in Penang’s street art scene was the emergence of the mural scene. In recent years, Penang has become a hub for mural art, with artists from all over the world coming to paint the walls of the city. The Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, in particular, has played a crucial role in the development of the mural scene in Penang, providing a platform for local and international artists to showcase their work
The Early Beginnings of Street Art in Penang
Penang’s street art scene started to gain traction in the early 2000s when Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian artist, was commissioned by the Penang Municipal Council to create a series of murals around George Town’s historic core. Zacharevic’s murals, which were painted on the walls of old shop houses, quickly became popular with locals and tourists alike. His interactive works, such as the “Little Children on a Bicycle” mural, where visitors can sit on a painted bicycle and pose as the children in the artwork, have become iconic symbols of Penang’s street art scene.
Following Zacharevic’s success, other local and international artists started to flock to Penang to add their own creative touches to the city’s walls. The street art scene in Penang has since evolved to include a mix of murals, installations, and sculptures, with new pieces popping up all the time.
One notable aspect of Penang’s street art scene is the use of local motifs and themes in the artwork. Many murals feature Penang’s rich cultural heritage, including its street food, festivals, and traditional trades. The use of these local elements helps to create a unique and authentic experience for visitors.
Overall, the early beginnings of street art in Penang can be traced back to Zacharevic’s murals in the early 2000s. Since then, the scene has grown and evolved to become a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Penang.
The emergence of the mural scene in Penang
The emergence of the mural scene in Penang can be traced back to 2012 when Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned by the Penang Municipal Council to create a series of murals as part of the Georgetown Festival. His interactive murals, which incorporated real objects such as bicycles and swings, quickly became a hit with locals and tourists alike and sparked a wave of interest in street art in Penang. Following the success of Zacharevic’s murals, other artists began to take notice of Penang’s creative scene. Local artists such as ASA and Louis Gan began to create their own murals, while international artists like Julia Volchkova and Kenji Chai also came to Penang to paint. Today, Penang’s street art scene has grown to include murals, sculptures, and installations throughout the city. The Penang State Government has even formed a Street Art Committee to manage and promote the street art scene. If you’re a fan of street art, Penang is a must-visit destination. With so many talented artists and unique pieces of art to discover, you’re sure to be inspired by the creativity and vibrancy of Penang’s street art scene.
Where to Find the Best Street Art in Penang
Penang’s street art scene is scattered throughout the city, so it’s important to have a plan before setting out on your exploration. Here are some of the best areas to find street art in Penang:
Armenian Street is one of the most well-known areas for street art in Penang. This street was once the centre of the Armenian community in Penang, and you can still see the influence of their culture in the architecture of the old buildings along the street. Today, the street is a bustling hub of activity, with cafes, shops, and of course, street art. One of the most popular murals on Armenian Street is the “Children on a Bicycle” mural by Ernest Zacharevic. This mural shows two children riding a bicycle, with one child standing on the seat and the other sitting on the handlebars. This mural has become an iconic image of Penang’s street art scene and is a must-see for any street art lover.
In addition to the “Children on a Bicycle” mural, there are also several other murals and installations along Armenian Street that are worth checking out. These include a mural of a boy playing basketball, a series of metal caricatures of famous Penangites, and an installation of a phone booth that looks like it has been crushed by a giant hand.
Armenian Street is also home to several shops and cafes that are worth visiting. One of the most popular is the Mugshot Cafe, which is known for its delicious coffee and breakfast dishes. Another popular spot is the China House, which is a sprawling complex of cafes, restaurants, and shops housed in a series of restored heritage buildings.
Overall, Armenian Street is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Penang’s street art scene. Make sure to bring your camera and take your time exploring this vibrant and colorful street.
Lebuh Muntri is another popular spot for street art enthusiasts. It is located in the heart of George Town and is home to some of the most iconic murals in Penang. One of the most famous murals is the ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ mural by Ernest Zacharevic. This mural depicts two children riding a bicycle and is a popular spot for taking photos. Another popular mural in Lebuh Muntri is the ‘Art is Rubbish/Rubbish is Art’ mural by ASA. This mural features a man holding a paintbrush made out of trash and is a commentary on the nature of art and its relationship to waste.
Lebuh Muntri is also home to the ‘Reaching Up’ mural by Louis Gan. This mural depicts a young boy reaching up to grab a birdcage, and is a symbol of hope and freedom.
Little India is a vibrant and colourful neighbourhood in Penang that is known for its traditional Indian culture and cuisine. It is also home to some of the best street art in the city. Here, you will find murals depicting scenes from Indian mythology, as well as colorful and intricate patterns adorning the walls of shops and restaurants.
One of the most popular murals in Little India is the ‘Indian Boatman’ mural, which depicts a man rowing a boat on the river. The mural is located on the side of a building on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, just a few steps away from the Kapitan Keling Mosque.
Another must-see mural in Little India is the ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ mural, which is located on Lebuh Pasar. This mural was painted by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, who is also responsible for some of the most iconic street art in Penang.
Aside from the murals, Little India is a great place to explore on foot. You can wander through the narrow streets and alleys, admiring the colourful architecture and sampling the delicious Indian food. Don’t forget to visit the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Penang and is adorned with intricate carvings and colourful sculptures.
Beach Street is another popular street for street art enthusiasts. It features a mix of old and new buildings, providing a unique backdrop for the murals.
One of the most popular murals on Beach Street is the ‘Boy on a Bike’ mural by Ernest Zacharevic. This mural depicts a young boy on a bicycle, appearing to ride out of the wall. It is located near the junction of Beach Street and Bishop Street.
Another popular mural on Beach Street is the ‘A Bowl of Pork Noodles’ mural by ASA. This mural depicts a bowl of pork noodles with chopsticks, and is located near the junction of Beach Street and Church Street.
In addition to these murals, there are several other smaller murals and art installations along Beach Street.
If you’re planning to explore Beach Street, be sure to wear comfortable shoes as there are several blocks to cover. And don’t forget to bring your camera to capture all the beautiful street art.
Hin Bus Depot
Located in George Town, Hin Bus Depot is a contemporary arts centre that showcases the work of local and international artists. The centre has become a hub for the street art scene in Penang, with many of the city’s most famous murals located in and around the area.
One of the most well-known pieces of street art in Hin Bus Depot is ‘Kids on Bicycle’ by Ernest Zacharevic. This mural features three-dimensional sculptures of children riding bicycles, with painted murals of the surrounding area behind them. Another popular piece is ‘The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This’ by ASA, which shows a man dressed as Bruce Lee holding a smartphone.
In addition to the street art, Hin Bus Depot also hosts regular exhibitions, workshops, and events. The centre is open to the public and is a must-visit for anyone interested in Penang’s street art scene.
The Artists Behind the Street Art
Perhaps the most well-known street artist in Penang, Ernest Zacharevic gained international recognition for his interactive murals in 2012. His works often incorporate real-life objects, such as bicycles and swings, which allow viewers to become part of the art piece. One of his most famous murals is ‘Children on a Bicycle,’ located on Armenian Street. The mural depicts two children riding a bicycle, with the actual bicycle incorporated into the artwork. Visitors can pose with the children and the bicycle, making for a great photo opportunity.
Zacharevic’s other notable works include ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ along Ah Quee Street, ‘Boy on a Bike’ on Lebuh Ah Quee, and ‘Reaching Up’ on Muntri Street. His unique style and ability to create interactive murals have contributed greatly to the popularity of street art in Penang.
Julia Volchkova is a Russian artist who has made a name for herself in the street art scene in Penang. Her murals can be found throughout the city, and her pieces often feature women as the main subject. Volchkova’s work is known for its incredible attention to detail and its ability to capture the emotions of her subjects.
One of her most famous works in Penang is the mural of the Indian girl with a birdcage on Lebuh Klang. The mural is painted on the side of a building, and the girl is depicted with a sad expression as she holds the birdcage. The piece is a commentary on the idea of captivity and freedom, and it is a powerful statement on the human condition.
Volchkova’s other works in Penang include a mural of a woman with a peacock on Lebuh Armenian, and a mural of a woman with a guitar on Lebuh Ah Quee. Both of these murals showcase her incredible talent for capturing the beauty and grace of the female form.
If you’re a fan of Julia Volchkova’s work, be sure to add her murals to your list of must-see pieces in Penang. Her work is a testament to the power of street art to convey powerful messages and evoke strong emotions in those who view it.
Gan’s work can also be seen at other locations throughout Penang, including a series of murals at the Hin Bus Depot art centre. Visitors to the centre can see a number of his works, which range from playful depictions of animals to more abstract designs.
Overall, Louis Gan’s work is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring Penang’s street art scene. His playful and whimsical style is sure to delight visitors of all ages.
Kenji Chai is a Malaysian artist known for his colourful and vibrant street art. His signature style often includes cartoon-like characters with exaggerated features and bright colors. He has created murals all over the world, including in Japan, Indonesia, and Australia, but some of his most impressive works can be found in Penang.
Chai’s work can also be seen at the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre in Penang, where he has created murals and exhibited his artwork. His art often explores themes of identity and cultural heritage, and he is known for incorporating Malaysian motifs and symbols into his work.
If you’re a fan of Kenji Chai’s work, Penang is a great place to explore his murals and appreciate his unique style.
Tips for Exploring Penang’s Street Art Scene
When planning your street art adventure in Penang, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Best time to visit
The best time to explore Penang’s street art scene is during the dry season, which runs from December to March. During this time, you’ll get to enjoy the artwork without worrying about the rain. However, keep in mind that this is also the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds. If you prefer a more laid-back experience, consider visiting in April or May when the weather is still pleasant, and the crowds have thinned out.
Regardless of the season, it’s best to start your street art adventure early in the morning or in the late afternoon. This way, you can avoid the heat and take advantage of the soft light that makes the artwork pop. Plus, you’ll have more time to explore the different areas and take breaks in between.
If you’re planning to visit during the George Town Festival, which takes place in August, you’re in for a treat. The festival features various art exhibitions, performances, and workshops, including street art tours. It’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Penang’s vibrant art scene and meet other art enthusiasts.
To enhance your experience, consider downloading a street art map or hiring a guide. A guide can provide you with valuable insights into the history and culture behind each artwork and take you to off-the-beaten-track locations. Plus, they can help you find hidden gems that you might miss on your own.
Remember to respect the artwork and the surroundings, and avoid touching or vandalizing the murals. Be mindful of your surroundings, especially if you’re crossing the road or walking on narrow sidewalks. And most importantly, have fun and enjoy the beauty of Penang’s street art scene!
Wear comfortable shoes
Exploring Penang’s street art scene can be a lot of walking, so it’s important to wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be strolling through the streets, alleys, and lanes of Penang, and some of them can be quite narrow and uneven. Plus, you’ll be on your feet for a while, so make sure your shoes can handle it.
We recommend wearing a pair of sneakers or walking shoes with good support and cushioning. Sandals and flip-flops might be tempting in the hot weather, but they’re not ideal for walking long distances. Also, keep in mind that it can rain unexpectedly in Penang, so avoid wearing shoes that are difficult to dry.
If you’re not used to walking long distances, consider taking breaks and sitting down to rest when you need to. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and shops along the way where you can take a break and grab a drink or a snack.
Overall, wearing comfortable shoes is essential for enjoying your street art adventure in Penang. So, make sure to choose your footwear wisely before setting out on your art-filled journey.
Bring a camera
Penang’s street art scene offers many great photo opportunities, so make sure to bring a camera with you. Whether you have a professional DSLR camera or just a smartphone, you’ll be able to capture some amazing shots.
One popular spot for taking photos is at the interactive murals created by Ernest Zacharevic. These murals feature painted figures and objects that allow you to pose with them as if you’re part of the artwork. Don’t be shy to step into the scene and strike a pose!
In addition to the interactive murals, you’ll find many other interesting pieces of street art scattered throughout the city. From large murals to small hidden gems, there’s something for every type of photographer.
If you’re using a smartphone, consider downloading apps such as VSCO or Snapseed to edit your photos on the go. Alternatively, if you have a DSLR camera, bring along a tripod for stability and a variety of lenses to capture different angles.
Remember to be respectful of the artwork and the artists when taking photos. Avoid touching or climbing on the artwork, and don’t use flash photography as it can damage the paintings over time.
Capture your memories of Penang’s street art scene and share them with your friends and family back home.
Be respectful of the artwork and the surroundings
Penang’s street art scene is a vibrant and integral part of the city’s culture and history. As such, it is important to be respectful of the artwork and the surroundings when exploring the streets. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Do not touch or deface the artwork in any way. While it may be tempting to interact with the art, it is important to remember that it is the property of the artist and the community.
- Do not litter or damage the area around the artwork. Keep the streets clean and tidy by disposing of any trash properly.
- Be mindful of the local residents and businesses. Remember that they live and work in the area, and may not appreciate large crowds or noise outside their homes or shops.
By being respectful of the artwork and the surroundings, you can help preserve the beauty and integrity of Penang’s street art scene for future generations to enjoy.
Final thoughts and recommendations on Penang’s Street Art
Exploring Penang’s street art scene is a must-do for anyone visiting the island. The vibrant and colourful murals that adorn the streets of Georgetown provide a unique and exciting way to experience the city’s culture and history.
As you wander the streets, take the time to appreciate the incredible talent and creativity of the artists who have brought these walls to life. With so much to see, you could easily spend an entire day (or more!) exploring the different neighbourhoods and hunting down the hidden gems.
Whether you’re a seasoned street art enthusiast or just looking for a fun and unique way to experience Penang, we’re sure you’ll love exploring the island’s vibrant and colourful murals. So grab your camera, put on your walking shoes, and get ready to discover the best of Penang’s street art scene!
Note: Some of the info here are derived from AI. As such it may not be 100% accurate but it is always a good idea to do your own due diligence.