In recent years the town of Penang has become more and more of a tourist attraction. With over 6 million tourists adding this charming town to their backpacking Malaysia itinerary annually, there must be something worth seeing. Street art! With detailed designs popping up on walls around the city year after year, each telling a story, art thirsty holidaymakers can’t help but make the journey from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, so they can wander around and carefully admire the fascinating murals. Here’s everything you need to know about these curious designs and how and where to find the best street art in Penang.
The start of Penang’s street art
Crumbling buildings, rich history and a melting pot of cultures and culinary delights, Penang rightfully earned the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. One year later, in 2009, the state government started a campaign known as ‘Marketing George Town.’ This consisted of artists presenting their ideas to retell the story, history and character of George Town and the communities living there. The campaign was won by ‘Sculpture at Work,’ who presented the idea of 52 welded iron caricatures depicting local life with a twist of humor.
According to Tourism Penang, there are currently 24 welded iron sculptures installed around the streets of Penang. The remaining sculptures are in production.
52 welded iron sculptures
There are 52 sculptures to feast your eyes on and soak up the local history, which would be difficult to squeeze in on a short visit to Penang. Unless you’re planning on taking up residence here for a couple of months, that is. Just walking around the main tourist areas, you are sure to come across many of them without even trying to seek them out. If by any chance you walk around with your eyes closed, here are a few of the best:
Jimmy Choo on Muntri Street
In honor of the luxury shoe designer Jimmy Choo, who was born in Penang. This spot marks where Jimmy Choo worked as an apprentice in shoe making.
Cheating Husband on Love Lane
Love lane is said to be the street on which rich Chinese men from Muntri street kept their mistresses. This famous image depicts a man that has just been caught cheating by his wife, thus he is escaping through the window.
Ting Ting Thong on Sek Chuan Lane on Sek Chuan Lane
Shows the busy life on Sek Chuan Lane. The artwork gets its name from the famous candy rock (Ting Ting Thong) that is sold on this street.
Street art by Ernest Zacharevic
In 2012, the Penang Municipal Council commissioned artist Ernest Zacharevic to create illustrations that exhibit the diversity of Penang’s inhabitants. The work of the Latvian born artist has since brewed up a storm with tourists, and in fact, his 8 graffiti sites are Penang’s top tourist attraction. Here you will find selfie stick waving sightseers eagerly waiting to place themselves in the artwork and snap, snap, snap away. Here’s a quick list of his 8 pieces and where you can find them:
1. Kids in a boat – This piece of artwork used to be found on Chew Jetty but has unfortunately been washed away.
2. Boy and girl on a bicycle on Armenian Street– This is probably the most famous artwork in Penang. It’s plastered all over souvenirs such as bags and t-shirts.
3. Boy on a motorbike on Ah Quee Street – This artwork is one of the most popular pieces of street art in Penang. The image shows a young boy hanging out on his bike, as he watches life go by.
4. Boy on a chair on Cannon Street – The boy on a chair is also another popular piece of artwork. The image shows a small boy trying to reach as high as he can.
5. Old man – Used to be located on Armenian Street but has now washed away. If you look very closely in the picture above, you may see the outline of what is left of it.
6. Broken heart – Similar to the Old Man artwork, the broken heart which depicted a post box with a heart on it torn in half, as now completely washed away.
7. Kung-fu girl on Muntri Street – This artwork is particularly impressive, as it incorporates the windows as part of the piece. Accordingly, the image is modeled on an 8-year old girl who Ernest knew from an art school.
8. Trishaw Man on Penang Road – This image reflects the daily life of a lot of local men in Penang and is a common sight. This is evident as you walk the streets of Penang; the art work comes to life.
What’s with all the cats?
The artwork of Skippy the cat is by far the most well-known artwork of the furry feline but there are so many more that spring up as you stroll around the streets. You will find them in plain sight as well as hidden down small alleyways. But, what’s with so many cats plastered all over the walls?
Well, they are part of a project called ‘101 Lost Kittens,’ which is all about creating awareness of stray animals in hope to foster a love for pets and ultimately reduce the number of strays.
Inspired artists making their mark
Although Ernest Zacharevic’s work is the most well-known and sought-after artwork, in recent years more young artists have been making their mark across the city with all kinds of designs; from Minions to Marge Simpson. Whilst not much information is known about these incredible art pieces, they are still very much worth stopping by at. Here are some of our favorites:
Marge Simpson on Lorong Soo Hong Street
Minion mural on An Quee Street
Greedy boy on MacAlister Road
Indian boatman located just off Stewart Lane
How to explore the street art of Penang
Getting around Penang is made simple with the many shops offering motorbike and bicycle rentals. Here are your options:
- Trishaw – If you’re feeling a little lazy and tired from the midday heat you can opt to jump into a traditional trishaw. All you need to do is sit back and relax in the cart whilst a local pedals you around the streets. Prices are negotiable, but most start from 25 Ringgit ($6) for one hour.
- Bicycle – If you would rather go at your own pace but still have wheels at your disposal, opt for a bicycle. You can easily rent one all day for 8 Ringgits ($1.92). Or, if you have a significant other, opt for a tandem for 20 Ringgits ($.4.81).
- On foot – The great thing about street art hunting in Penang, is that it can all be covered on foot. The major advantage of being on foot is that you don’t need to keep getting on and off the bike and finding somewhere suitable to park it.
Ready to delve into the artwork of Penang? With creativity in all different styles, colors and each telling a story of Penang and its people, you can easily fill your days in Georgetown with street art exploration. Go and get lost among the ancient crumbling buildings and the street art will just pop out at you. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and leave Malaysia’s modern capital behind and take the bus to Penang to get started on this list of Penang’s best street art.