Penang Street Art and Peranakan Tiles
Penang Street Art
Penang’s George Town has become a flourishing street art hotspot; a safari through the old town streets reveals cats, children and words of wisdom: all bringing life to crumbling walls and plain buildings.
It began when Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to produce murals for the 2012 George Town festival; his quirky, and often huge, murals are of children at play. Many incorporate features of the building or have real objects, such as motorbikes or swings, worked into the piece.
These murals are the highlight of Penang’s street art; they are fun and intriguing to look at, some are even interactive.
These murals seem to have inspired the townspeople and street art now pops up all over George Town: most of it centred around Lebuh Armenian (Armenian Street). There is even a street art map so you can hunt out the art easily!
We went on the art trail one morning, using the map to find the works. It wasn’t as easy as we thought, the map showed general areas but some of the pieces were hidden up alleys and back streets. It made a fun treasure hunt.
The abundant kitties are a project called 101 Lost Kittens: these whimsical cats highlight the plight of stray animals by showing them as useful and lucky. They sure look purr-dy.
The mural at the top of the post – of Bruce Lee hoofing some cats across the brick wall – is entitled ‘The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This’. Indeed, let’s hope he wouldn’t.
Aside from the cute kittens and playful children, the street artists of Penang have also enriched the city streets with wise words, thoughtful ponderings and joyful illustrations: the colourful dragon and the ‘Get a Life’ crow particular favourites of mine.
The Penang Street Art trail is a popular tourist thing to do, we certainly weren’t the only people following the map that morning.
A group of umbrella shaded tourists reached Lebuh Armenian just as we did and, boy, did they take a long time photographing each other at every one of the art works! We had to alter our route somewhat to avoid them.
There are many more murals and artworks dotted around the city, some more obvious than others. We spotted the huge ‘Awaiting Trishaw’ mural when we were on the bus but never managed to get to it on foot to grab a photo.
Penang’s Peranakan Tiles
As well as street art, George Town is a glorious place if you are a tile fan (yes *raises hands*). The heritage buildings in old Chinatown are resplendent with Victorian tiles.
Known locally as Peranakan tiles– Peranakan being a term mostly used to describe the Straits Chinese – they were originally shipped over from Europe when Penang was a British Straits settlement.
These Peranakan tiles decorate the shop houses with glorious panels on the lower walls and smart floor tiles under the arches.
Every house seems to have a different design and combination of the tiles, the richly decorative designs varying from geometric patterns to birds and plants.
I enjoyed, in my own geeky way, ‘collecting’ these tiles, photographing them as I found them while exploring George Town.
To me, they are a wonderful reminder of the town’s heritage, an east/west blend of design and function. The Chinese traders who first settled in British Malaya (and Dutch Indonesia) mixed their own culture with that of the new settlers, and the Malay people, creating this eclectic new Peranakan culture, calling themselves Baba Nyonya.
As you can see, there is plenty to feast your eyes on in Penang, and it’s all free!
Combine your street art trail with the Penang Street Food Map (which you can download here) and both your eyes and your bellies will be in for a treat!
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By Rachel A Davis