Georgetown was inducted as a Unesco World Heritage Site on July 7th, 2007 along with joint nominee Melaka, because of their multicultural heritage developed over 500 years of trading and the cultural exchanges between the East and the West in the Straits of Malacca. Georgetown represents the British era from the end of the 18th century. George Town stepped up to the mark and in celebrating its status added to the reasons to visit with an art competition. And the resultant Penang Street Art of Georgetown has become a particular reason to visit the capital of Penang Island.
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On 7 September 2009, an international competition was held aimed at exploring innovative ideas in art and design in public spaces in George Town. There were 40 entries both from Malaysia and internationally. SculptureAtWork won with the design concept of “voices from the people” – and thus, 52 unique, but humourous illustrations in metalwork were installed against the city’s building walls.
What resulted is a spectacular reason to spend time in Georgetown, Penang. Aside from the many other things to do in Georgetown, the Penang Street Art installations are fabulous and a great way to learn about the history of the island. Welcome to how to see the Penang Street Art in Georgetown.
The location and descriptions of the Georgetown Street Art installations are noted in the great free map “Marking George Town” available from most hotels and the tourist and heritage centers. But here are some of our favorites and a little more information about them all.
The Metalwork Sculptures of Georgetown Street Art
Penang Street Art “Spy”
Right around the corner from our hotel, the Malabar Inn, this piece of Penang Street Art is named “Spy” – as, in the early 20th century, the slightly risque reputation of this area was further enhanced by the presence of Japanese camera shops which were suspected of covert spying activities.
Penang Street Art Installation “Budget Hotels”
“Budget Hotels” – here on Love Lane, many shophouses were turned into cheap hotels – making this location very popular with backpackers.
Penang Street Art Installation “Cheating Husband”
“Cheating Husband” – the local Chinese say that the rich men who lived on Muntri Street kept their mistresses here, hence the name “Ai Cheng Hang” or Love Lane.
Penang Street Art Narrowest Five Foot Alleyway
“Narrowest Five Foot Way” – this “five foot way” of Wan Hai Hotel is said to be the narrowest in Penang.
Penang Street Art – “Beca”
“Beca” Most of the trishaw drivers also doubled as tourist guides.
Penang Street Art Installation – Mahjong
“Mahjong” – “Hey, at this hour, still play Mahjong” – – the game of sparrows – a favorite game of the elderly.
Penang Street Art Installation – Temple Day
“Temple Day” – Incense, Candles, Oil, Joss Stick, Flowers? help, help. During the fifteenth day of each lunar month, the Goddess of Mercy Temple is packed with devotees seeking divine guidance.
Penang Street Art Installation – Tok Tok Mee
“Tok tok Mee” – tok tok mee (noodles) is so called because hawkers would strike a tok tok sound to signal their presence.
Penang Street Art Installation – Bullock Cart Wheel
“Bullock Cart Wheel” In the days when your money could be as big as a bullock cart wheel, this was a popular rest stop for the limos of the time.
Penang Street Art Installation – Quiet Please
“Quiet Please” – to the dismay of parishioners of the Portuguese Church there, Church Street also housed the headquarters of the notorious Ghee Hin secret society.
Penang Street Art Installation – Too Salty
“Too Salty”- the Tamils refer to this street as Uppukaran Teru or Salt Traders Street, a reference to the Salt Trading activities.
Penang Street Art Installation – Duck
“Duck” – Also known as Chicken Alley, this lane was once used by poulterers.
Penang Street Art Installation – Fire Fire
“Fire, Fire”- up until 1909 the police doubled as George Town’s firefighters.
Penang Street Art Installation – Yeoh Only
“Yeoh Only”- Yeoh Kongsi was established in 1836 to look after the welfare of the newly arrived Yeoh clansmen.
Penang Street Art Installation – Property
“Property” – in the 1800’s the shops and godowns on Victoria Street were built at the seafront (there’s been lots of landfill since!)
Penang Street Art Installation – Pilgrims
“Pilgrims”- Much of the traffic to and from the Muslim Holy Land for the Haj went through Achen Street, where tickets for the trip were sold.
Penang Street Art Installation – Ah Quee
“Ah Quee”- This street is named after Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee who generously donated his house to the Municipality for vehicular access ensuring that his name lives on for posterity.
Penang Street Art Installation – Too Narrow
“Too Narrow” – The hand-pulled rickshaw was the most popular form of transportation in early Penang, because the alleys were too narrow for anything else.
Penang Street Art Installation – Procession
“Procession” – The Tua Pek Kong Hneoh Grand Float Procession is held in the Year of the Tiger to wash away bad luck and bring great wealth and health.
Penang Street Art Installation – Cannon Hole
“Cannon Hole” – A cannon shot fired during the 1867 Penang Riots made a large hole in this area, hence the name.
Penang Street Art Installation – Jimmy Choo’s Apprenticeship
This is the place where Jimmy Choo, the famous shoe designer started his apprenticeship.
Now, what made Penang’s Street Art REALLY famous was what follows…
Penang Art Installations from Ernest Zacharevic
In 2012, Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to paint “a few murals” – including the “Kids on a Bicycle” – other artists have since contributed – and the map shows the more popular ones, but as you wander around George Town, you’ll see more and more.
They aren’t all on the official map but are striking all the same.
Penang Street Art Painting: Indian Boatman
The Indian Boatman is super life-size and so incredibly detailed. He could have been painted from our trip to the Kerala Backwaters!
Penang Street Art Painting: Brother and Sister on a Swing
Brother and Sister on a swing on Step by Step Lane gives you the opportunity to join in too.
Penang Street Art Painting: Children Playing Basketball
“The Children playing Basketball” down a small side alley lets you play with a real hoop too.
Penang Street Art Painting: Children on a Bike
Finally, the famous “Children on a (real) Bike” – you can see the line of folks waiting to get their photo taken even after dark by the shadows.
Penang Street Art Installation – Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee is down a side street and hard to find, especially in the dark.
Penang Street Art Installation – The Old Motorcycle
And finally, my personal favorite. the “Old Motorcycle”.
Map of the Best Artwork in George Town, Penang
You can see the full map of George Town Artwork here.
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Final Words on Georgetown Street Art
George Town is a wonderful city for walking around and just discovering – well the city – and these works of art are a marvelous way for new and old visitors to see more and more of the city and the best thing is that it’s free too!
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