Malaysia has seen a boom in street art in the last ten years, with both commissioned and non-commissioned works showing up in many of the major cities. Our first glimpse of these murals was in Sasaran, a tiny traditional fishing village of only 4,000 people, yet holds an impressive international art festival, now in it’s third edition. Our favorite was ‘Catch and Release’ – a little boy’s ‘big catch’ proving a little too big for him.
Most of the Malaysian street art can be found in Ipoh and the island of Penang and quite a few pieces were created by a single artist, Lithuanian born Ernest Zacharevic. Ernest has been commissioned to create street art in not only Ipoh and Penang but also Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and more recently Singapore.
In Ipoh, Ernest’s work is centred around the Old Town section, famous for it’s food and white coffee. Maps for his murals can be found on alleyway walls creating an easy treasure hunt.
Most of the artworks such as ‘Trishaw’ is centered around traditional Malay life, and blend real world items with the paintings, making them three-dimensional and sometimes interactive.
While you will still see the traditional trishaws on the roads, you are more likely to see vastly overloaded motorised variants.
Not all of the art is created by Ernest, there are quite a few others around town, and more are popping up every day. The snow beer mural was commissioned by the cafe/bar Yoon Wah, famous for it’s slushy style beer. The beer glass is frozen so when the beer is poured the foam freezes while the beer underneath stays cold.
I actually tried a frozen Asahi version in Singapore. The taste was a bit odd but it was worth it for the novelty factor and I’m sure it would be great on a blisteringly hot day.
Whilst the majority of the pieces were left to interpretation without explanation, others had a clearer description, such as the ‘Paper Plane’, stating that the plane representing the freedom of the town, and the two children, Chinese and Malay, representing cultural friendships between different ethnicities.
Finding the artwork in Ipoh was an easy walk around town, trying to tick off all of the pieces. Penang was truly the opposite. There was so much art you weren’t actually sure if a mural was a commissioned piece or just something a cafe decided to put up to attract customers. From tiny to huge, traditional to contemporary, Penang had it all.
Time Out Magazine have created an interactive map showing the vast number of art to hunt out in the streets of Penang’s Georgetown. If anything there is almost too much art to be seen. It may be almost too much of a good thing.
The most famous of the bunch is ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’.
Which is loved so much it was rather difficult to get a clear shot, with an endless line of snapping tourists.
It was far easier for Suyin to capture a shot of the lesser known ‘Large Child on a Bicycle’…
It’s not all bicycles though. The giant ginger cat here is modeled after Skippy, a stray cat with a deformed leg who now resides on a Lankawi island resort.
Cat art is prominent in Penang, and most were created by ASA or Artists for Stray Animals. The 2013 art project dubbed 101 Lost Kittens was used to create awareness of the plight of stray animals in Penang. The twelve feline murals encourage people to adopt, care for and spay/neuter stray cats and dogs.
Environmentally friendly paint was used for the art so they expect to fade away in only a few years and the effects can already be seen. As much of the art is placed on dilapidated buildings with crumbling exteriors, many will disappear sooner rather than later. I think the crumbling render walls actually add to the Bruce Lee vs Cat fight scene (Actually titled ‘The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This’).
Fading fast as well is ‘Boy on Bike’ will soon be just Bike’. (The names of the art pieces were not as imaginative as the art itself.)
‘Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur’ was the worst affected with the render crumbling the stick figure pet dinosaur to more imaginary than the original artist surely intended.
With new Penang art showing up at every turn there is always something new to see to take the place of the fallen.