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.
No matter where you stay the Street Art map will be recommended as one of the most important leaflets you can pick up. While wandering the main streets with let you cross paths with many of the murals, a few are tucked away or faded meaning you could easily walk by them without noticing – something I did several times.
I’ve included the map below to give you a taste. Georgetown is a very walkable city – if you’re new to SE Asia be aware that some streets won’t have paths and some crossing will be frantic, but there’s no need to get buses or taxis unless exploring Penang outside of Georgetown.
The most iconic street art in Penang aren’t in the standard cartoon style, but instead look like large paintings focuses on charismatic human characters interestingly placed in their surroundings. These are the result of Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, being invited to the city in 2012 to brief fresh life into the historic district and it’s iconic chinese shop fronts.
A few of the most iconic pieces from the initial batch from 2012 have deteriorated, meaning you have to squint to see their former glory.
One of the reasons I love Penang’s street art is due to the focus on cats in many of the pieces.
Although there’s still a few pieces for dog lovers too!
To help illustrate the creative side to the city, each of the streets in the central area has it’s own unique wire sign featuring characters in intriguing situations.
Along with the distinctive pieces by Ernest Zacharevic, there’s many one off pieces across the city by artists making the most of the council’s liberal approach to graffiti.