Exploring unique murals and sculptures in Asia’s street-art capital
George Town, Penang is a cultural mashup like no other, with its street food, striking Peranakan architecture and famous Penang Street Art representing its unique mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese heritage. The island of Penang, off the west coast of Malaysia, was also a British colony so signs of its colonial routes are evident in the architecture.
I always enjoy street art, but the murals found throughout the city – named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 – were unlike anything I’d seen. The use of objects incorporated in many of the pieces encourage visitors to interact with them. In other words, George Town is selfie heaven.
There is too much to see on one trip and it was very hot in Penang when I visited in late September. But I captured photos of the murals and sculptures I found particularly memorable.
Penang Street Art - Google Map
I created this google map of the Penang Street Art – the pieces that I particularly loved and have included in this story. The map also includes works from among the most popular with visitors. They are listed at the end of the story. Most hotels or the tourism office have free maps available which you can use to navigate around the city and see the art and heritage buildings. Enjoy the murals and sculptures of Penang!
Penang Street Art - Some of my Favourites
Boy On a Motorbike
One of the most popular of the street art pieces we saw – Boy on a Motorbike by Ernest Zacharevic, often had a line up of visitors waiting for a ride. The main photo at the top of this story was taken in the morning when there was less motorbike and trishaw traffic whizzing up the busy Lebuh Ah Quee. Apparently, the abandoned motorcycle used in the mural-installation was left here by a tourist after he rode it from Vietnam to Penang.
Ernest Zacharevic is a Lithuanian-born artist famous for his experimental style. He uses various disciplines including oil painting and stencil and combines them with installation and sculpture. Boy on a Motorbike was created in 2012 as part of the George Town art and culture festival. It was his first “constructive art” project anywhere. His work is now found around the world – in fact I recently saw one of his pieces at the Wynwood Walls outdoor art display in Miami, U.S. You will see several of his pieces as you explore Penang.
Little Boy & Pet Dinosaur
If you visit the Boy on a Motorbike – you will see Little Boy and Pet Dinosaur as they are next to each other. The little boy is having fun with his unusual pet who seems to have its own ideas about what happens next.
I loved the whimsical fun of this piece, also by Ernest Zacharevic
The Indian Boatman by Julia Volchkova was far and away my favourite. The scale of it was remarkable and Julia has a remarkable talent for capturing facial experssions. I loved the persspective she created which made me feel as though I could step in to boat with him and set off on an adventure in India – you may know India is one of my favourite places.
Julia Volchkova is from Siberia Russia and started drawing from an early age. After art school, she started creating streets art in Saint Petersburg where her striking work gained popularity. Being invited to paint murals in Penang was a turning point that really accelerated her career.
We visited this mural a few different times because our hotel, The Edison Penang, was very close by. It’s also very near the Seven Terraces which I also recommend as a place to stay or to go for a special dinner.
Boy on a Chair
Boy on a Chair by Ernest Zacharevic was another favourite; we saw it in the evening and the boy’s yellow t-shirt seemed to glow by the light of the Lebuh Aceh Mosque just down the street. I love that he is on his toes, grasping for something just out of reach.
It was a little crowded, but we managed to squeeze on to the chair with him for a quick photo.
The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do That
Although it has faded since it was painted in 2013, The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do That is a fun and striking mural which pays homage to the city’s felines. I like the tongue-in-cheek message – reminding people to be kind to their animal neighbours – as the real Bruce Lee surely would.
Brother and Sister on a Swing
Brother and Sister on a Swing is another fun and creative mural that invites visitors to join the laughing children for some fun on their swing set.
The artist is Louis Gan, a Penang local. Apparently he was commissioned by the owner of the building to create this work, which depicts the owners children. (Louis doesn’t seem to have a website so the link is to his facebook page.)
Kids on a Bicycle
Another work by Ernest Zacharevic completed in 2012 and as popular as Boy on a Motorbike. I love the expression of the little boy as he holds on tight to his companion. There is a small bench next to the mural so you can perch next to them as you catch a ride and take your photo.
Bicycles are popular in Penang and this girl rode past so her friend could take a photo – lucky for me, I got one as well. (I showed her after to make sure she was ok with me having it.)
Men Holding the Wall
Men Holding the Wall was popular with visitors – although it’s not the most striking of the murals I saw, it’s a perfect place to get a fun photo because it’s located down a quiet side street.
Wo Ai Nee / The Cultural Girls
The small and charming Wo Ai Nee mural represents Penang itself. The three cultural Girls represent the diversity of Penang and the heritage of most of its residents: Malay, Indian and Chinese.
In 2009, the city hired a Kuala Lumpur firm to commission 52 metal rod art installations around George Town – each piece representing the city’s history and culture. I saw several of them as I toured the winding streets, but liked The Grand Procession Sculpture in particular.
It represents the Grand Float Procession held in honour of the birthday of Tua Pek Kong, a historic figure who is considered the God of Prosperity. The procession took place in 193o which was the year of the tiger – depicted in the work. The artist is Tang Mun Kianat Core Zone Heritage.
Folklore By The Sea
I went looking for another mural at the end of the Chew Jetty, one of the seven piers here, each representing a Chinese family, or clan, that settled in George Town. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but stumbled across this family enjoying a steamy day by the water – Folklore by the Sea.
More Popular Penang Street Art
These works are included in the map at the top of the story and worth seeing if you have the time.
Indonesian Boy – a gorgeous work by Julia Volchkova who painted the Indian Boatman. Her talent for capturing facial expressions is apparent in this piece.
Kung Fu Girl – Another work by Ernest Zacharevic worth seeing for its striking scale and the perspective that makes it feel as though the agile girl is about to move above you, propped up by her hands resting on two awnings.
Trishaw Man – the largest of the murals by by Ernest Zacharevic and fitting in this city known for its trishaws.
Children Playing Basketball was also created by Lous Gan – unfortunately I somehow missed it so don’t have a photo.