Since being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, Penang has done a fantastic job blending the old with the new. Walking down the old streets of George Town, you’ll see crumbling, pastel buildings, eclectic street art, sacred temples, modern cafes, and local markets.
Before visiting, I’d heard the street art scene, in particular, was the stuff legends were made of, but still wasn’t prepared to be so blown away.
When George Town became a UNESCO site, the Penang State Government held a competition for ideas to help brand the town as such to make it more attractive for visitors.
One of the ideas to come out of the competition was a series of wrought iron sculptures, which give off a sketch-esque appearance against the city’s walls.
Every corner I turned down, there seemed to be iron sculptures. The details in some of them are incredible, and I found them interesting because many contain history snippets.
Other projects in Geroge Town have led to the creation of what seems like it must be endless street art. In fact, there are so many murals in Penang, statistics about how many there actually are simply don’t exist.
The hunt for street art is a fun (and free!) activity that seemed to happen every time I set out to explore downtown. Even, if my intent was to head to a cafe, I’d inevitably be distracted by a glimpse of a colorful mural down an alleyway.
Where to find this awesome street art?
It’s seriously all over town. You can’t miss it.
A few places to head to if you want to kick-start your search-
- Armenian Street
- Gat Lebuh Chulia Street
- Love Lane (bonus, you’ll find plenty of trend cafes in this area and budget hostels- it’s known for being backpacker friendly)
While wandering, keep an eye out for the cat art. It’s all over town, the result of a collaboration with the 101 Lost Kittens Project. An effort carried out by the Artists for stray animals to help raise awareness of the issue and find home for stray animals.
And, not posing with one of Ernest Zacharevic’s 3D works of art would be a serious George Town oversight.
In 2012, Zacharevic came to Penang on hire to add a series of murals to George Town. It was his first major art project and resulted in a phenomenal public response. His work now features worldwide, and he’s one of the most famous street artists.
His series in George Town is distinctive because it often includes motorcycles, bicycles or a swing. You’ll be able to spot these words from streets away- there’s often a short queue or group of people crowded around what appears to just be a wall, until get closer and see the artwork.
His interactive street art was one of my favourite things to seek out in George Town. Don’t be afraid of sitting on the bikes, or climbing on the swing- the structures are sturdy.
Such a fun concept.
In any place I visit, I’m always interested in public or street art (if it exists), but it wasn’t until visiting Penang, that I really appreciated how much of an impact it can have on a city.
Penang would be worth visiting without it, but there’s not question how much the murals have shaped the vibe of the town.
Few other places spring to mind- Berlin, London, Prague, Lisbon- that people purposefully come to in hope of seeing street art.
In George Town, there are a mix of fun, interactive pieces, and murals meant to have more of a social impact (awareness to adopt stray animals, a reminder of climate change).
Have you ever visited a place where the street art or local art surprised you in the best way possible?