While in Belfast earlier this year, I noticed that only a small minority of tourists in the region were British. It’s easy to understand why – growing up in the 1990s I have vague childhood memories of ‘The Troubles’ on the news, of the bombings by the IRA and its fractions in England, and Gerry Adams’ pre-hipster beard – none of which screamed travel hotspot. But it’s actually this rich, if complicated, political history that makes Northern Ireland such a surprisingly fascinating destination. This is most apparent when exploring West Belfast, an area divided by Protestant and Catholic quite literally by the ‘Peace lines’ walls. Up to 25 feet in places and collectively miles long, since The Good Friday Agreement these have been used as a place for artists to express local and international political discourse and human rights.
When it opened to a surprised public in late August, Banksy’s Dismaland was all over the British news. Some said the artist had become the gimmick themselves by harpooning the commercial world of theme parks in a way that arguably lacked depth and integrity. While Banksy’s work has always appealed to me (like most) it was more the appeal of the kitsch element of amusement parks that pulled me in. I am a massive fan of anything that if highly thematic, the most synthetic the better, With that in mind, an immersive sculpture art experience skewing the characteristics of the traditional British seaside experience in my old stomping ground of Somerset was hard to resist.
I’m very spoilt for street art living in Shoreditch, probably one of the most densely graffitti’d neighbourhoods in the world. But like many I am still drawn to seeking out destinations where the walls are used as a canvas to tell local stories or the best of international artists. In many parts of South East Asia interest in the medium is growing side by side with millennials who spent their teens embracing music and subculture. While there are a few great spots in the region to see this, Georgetown is the best example of street art being embraced citywide, not just in one neighbourhood. The capital of Penang island in Malaysia, Georgetown is a small hop of a flight over from Kuala Lumpur, or even Melaka which was the route I took.The island is known for it’s mixture of colonial shop fronts, clan jetties and vibrant modern life.