16 Mar PENANG STREET MURAL BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO OLD CITY
In modern history, since the construction of KOMTAR and the 2000 Sukma Games, the historic city of George Town, Penang has had been a relatively quiet part of Malaysia until about 2008, when it, alongside Malacca City, became classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008. Since then, the city is enjoying a tourism renaissance, even being featured in global media outlets such as one of CNN’s Must-Visit Places. Besides the booming businesses brought into hotels and restaurants as well as various restorations of historical buildings, a key aspect of the city’s dramatic rise in popularity is its numerous street art scattered throughout the Heritage Site.
Among the most photographed of the Penang Street Art are the murals by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. Two of his murals – Little Children on a Bicycle on Armenian Street and Boy on a Bike on Ah Quee Street – has enjoyed considerable attention by both locals and foreign tourists alike. Their set-ups are relatively simple – for each painting, real bikes are placed permanently on a curb or an unused doorway, followed by paintings of photo-realistic Malaysian children depicted as enjoying simpler times. Because tourism in Penang has its foundation seeped into nostalgia – and because its visitors heavily buy into the idea of a romanticized past – these murals still rank among the most popular tourist attractions, not just in Penang, but in Malaysia as a whole.
Zacharevic has contributed further murals like the aptly named Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur also on Ah Quee Street and Reaching Up on Cannon Street, but he has outdone himself with gigantic murals like the Children in a Boat mural on Chew Jetty, and the Little Girl in Blue mural on Muntri Street. The Awaiting Trishaw Paddler by local artist Desmond Yeo, dominating a five-storey wall on Penang Road, could have been inspired by Zacharevic’s works.
Upon closer inspection, the intricate details of these murals reveal a great love and care for the George Town culture and spirit. Children, based on real children at the time, reveal a great sense of innocence and simplicity that gives George Town its energetic lifestyle, not despite, but rather due to its history. Other murals such as Trishaw act like windows into the past, in George Town where technology did not dominate much and the common man laments at past, present, and future.
“Penang looks super quiet at first glance, as if nothing happens here. But the moment you start doing something, people are willing to get involved and to help you,” Zacharevic once stated in an interview. Perhaps, because of these paintings, these once-forgotten people now deservedly give this city new life into the arts and heritage scene.