If you love street art and street food, Penang is the destination for you. This little island off the coast of Malaysia has a plethora of amazing street art and delicious food for the foodie and art lover alike. In fact, I spent a whole weekend navigating my way around Penang’s capital, George Town from artwork to artwork (and street stall to street stall). As a massive fan of street art, it was the best way to explore the city.
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Life Imitates Art, Imitates Life
Most of my favourite murals in George Town were done by Lithuanian artist, Ernest “Zach” Zacharevic, who is a master of all artistic disciplines; be it installations, oil paintings, stencilling and sculptures. In 2012 he rose to fame after he was commissioned to create six pieces of street art that celebrated the culture and lifestyle of George Town, titled Mirrors George Town.
Since then, he’s created amazing art around the world and his pieces in George Town are a major drawcard for tourists and art admirers. BBC even named him “Malaysia’s answer to Banksy”.
I love that a lot of his works implement part of the physical environment into the art. I also love that they are interactive, allowing the audience to become part of the art!
Another stand out for me were the two pieces by local deaf/mute artist Louis Gan who was self-taught. Isn’t that amazing!? He certainly puts our stick figure drawings to shame!
Love street food as much as you love street art? Check out our post on the street food in Penang.
Marking George Town
Did you know George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? To celebrate and promote the fact, the Penang State Government ran an international competition in 2009 to find ways to creatively and artistically mark the public spaces of the historical city.
Kuala Lumpur-based company, Sculpture At Work, won the competition and created illustrated iron-rod sculptures that told enlightening stories of the history and culture of George Town.
52 pieces of artwork adorn the sides of buildings and streets throughout the World Heritage Site and are a fantastic way to navigate around the city, whilst learning interesting facts about George Town.
Despite all of my efforts over two days, I didn’t quite see all 52 (I think I managed to get 47 all up though, so not a bad effort!). Some pieces were removed during the time I was searching for them, but it was still a fun activity! If you are planning on seeing as much as you can, make sure you stay hydrated and have sunscreen, as the days can be long and hot!
Quirky Street Art
I don’t know why, but there seems to be a theme (or strange obsession, if you will) with Minions and cats in a lot of the street art. I know, I don’t get it either… (Dog people over here, folks!)
Love Malaysian food? Check out the recipe for a Malaysian classic, Chicken Curry here.
Planning your Street Art Journey
Street Art Penang Map
Here is a fantastic interactive map that you can use on your phone, or if you are a bit old school like me, you can pick up maps of George Town in most cafes, hostels and hotels. With a little bit of prep work (using the map above when you are in the comforts of your accommodation and have wifi access), you can mark out all the highlights on the map and cross them out as you go and save the phone for photos and selfies. Oh and calls, I guess.
Or, if you have access to a printer, I absolutely love the flyer from Visit Penang, as it has the map with the artwork marked on it, plus a snippet of information on each piece of the Marking George Town series. Penang Travel Tips also has plenty of information on the street art in Penang.
If you want a fun experience, hire a trishaw for an hour. They are generally targeted towards tourists and can be found on main streets (such as Beach Street), and they will take you around the sights, pointing out the street art as you relax in comfort. If you are good at haggling, you could get away with an hour’s ride for around RM30. Make sure you negotiate and settle on a price before you hop on board! My driver was great and stopped at interesting sights and had plenty of info on George Town’s art and history.
Getting to Penang
Penang is located on the northwest coast of Malaysia and can easily be reached by car/bus or plane. Flights are cheap (from memory, I paid about $14 one-way from Kuala Lumpur) and are reasonably quick (flying time from KL is around 50 minutes). Taxis from the airport are normally pre-paid and can get you to George Town within 30 minutes. For more info, check out http://www.penangairport.com/getting-to-penang-airport/penang-airport-taxis.htm
So if you are a fan of art, a trip to Penang should definitely be on your travel wish list! There’s always new art popping up all the time, and the city of George Town itself has a really funky vibe about it.
Have you visited Penang? What was your favourite piece of street art? What city has surprised you with their street art scene? Comment below?