CITY CANVAS

Written by support. Posted in FEATURES

Published on March 22, 2015 with No Comments

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On the hunt for George Town’s street art.

Words SURIANI ARIFF

It’s no secret anymore. Those who swoop down into George Town these days would first make a beeline for the city’s famous dishes, or the wall murals. Though not necessarily in that order.

Tourists are keeping themselves busy striking a pose with the “Little Children on a Bicycle” wall mural in Armenian Street, or you can find them cheekily sitting on the bike of the “Boy on a Bike” mural at Ah Quee Street. The two are some of the street art that have graced George Town’s heritage walls, giving a fresh vibe to the city while celebrating its unique multiculturalism, diversity and living heritage.

It all started when the Penang municipal council commissioned a London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacherevic, to lead the street art project entitled “Mirror George Town” in conjunction with the George Town Festival 2012. The project aimed to transform the streets of George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage City, into an open-air art gallery that can be admired as visitors explore the heritage enclave.

These murals such as “Little Girl in Blue”, “Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur”, “The Awaiting Trishaw Peddler” and “Children in a Boat” not only brought a new lease of life to many of the pre-colonial shophouses around the inner city, but they’ve also successfully transmitted art into the public sphere. It provides a unique platform for communication of ideas, culture and art outside the traditional gallery and museum.

Regardless of how the public sees the art, for Zacherevic, the murals reflect his own experiences. “The city is very inspiring. It had a huge impact on me and my everyday life. The community there, the experiences, and the architecture – it was very natural.” In fact, some of the people painted in his murals are real people living in George Town.

Apart from the wall murals, guests to George Town are also attracted by the city’s welded iron wall caricatures. Totalling more than 50, the caricatures are often witty; blending history with humour and depict the lifestyle of the early immigrants of George Town in the 20th century. The concept was inspired by the voices of Penangites who could relate well to the humorous stories behind the caricatures, from how the streets got their funny nicknames to the daily scenes of the community back then.

One cannot help but to laugh at the images of labourers skilfully carrying wares on their heads, a cow running helter-skelter from the slaughterhouse or a rich man hiding himself outside the window to avoid being caught for his rather questionable secret dalliance.

Other caricatures include the Tok Tok Mee seller at China Street; a Procession sculpture on Armenian Street; the Ah Quee sculpture in honour of Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, one of the wealthiest men in 19th century George Town; and the caricature of Sir Francis Light with a local guy depicting the evolution of Chulia Street, from a main street largely for a South Indian community in the past to a backpacker haven today. Penang-boy-turned-shoe-designer-to-the stars, Jimmy Choo, is also honoured at Leith Street.

Along with Zacharevic, local artists have also been commissioned to create new wall murals. Louis Gan Yee Loong created the cute “Children on a Swing” and “Children playing Basketball” at Chulia Street Ghaut. A series of cat murals, such as “The Giant Cat”, “101 Lost Kittens”, “No Animal Discrimination Please” and more were created by a group of artists from Artists for Stray Animals (ASA).

So the next down you’re in George Town, map out your adventure to hunt down these wall murals and more. You’d be surprised at what you can learn about the city just by looking at them.

Royal Brunei Airlines flies Kuala Lumpur double daily for connections to Penang.

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