George Town Art

A photo of multi-colored t-shirts in Penang, Malaysia.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

Malaysia has a lot of great places to visit, outside of Kuala Lumpur. Indeed, if you visit Malaysia, you don’t really need to spend more than a day or two in KL, before you hop out to the other cities and villages. I’ve seen a fair amount of Malaysia over the years, exploring most of the mainland, and also visiting the eastern state of Sabah.

Penang is one of the more interesting places to spend time in Malaysia. Penang is both the name of the state, and the name of the island, which has the capital city of George Town on it. This city/state is in the northern part of the mainland, close to Thailand. When I hear other people speak of the state, particularly Malaysians, they say that Penang is the best place for food in the whole country. I’ve never had a bad meal in Malaysia, but I do seem to recall that there are some pretty great restaurants in Penang.

That’s a good point, though. Most people tend to remember the food they have, when they travel. My memories are not so much about food. Mine are visual memories. I tend to remember what I saw, what I photographed, and how it made me feel. Every place has a distinct look, and Penang is as distinct as anywhere.

George Town is a great place to take photographs. Its blend of British colonialism, Chinese, and Indian heritages are visible everywhere. You can walk in a small area, and see a cathedral, a mosque and a hindu temple almost next to each other. This is possibly true in KL and Singapore too, but it just seems more evident in Penang.

A photo of a red wall in Malaysia.

Red Wall detail at Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi in George Town, shot in 2009.

A photo of a beige wall in Malaysia.

Beige wall detail at Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi in George Town, shot in 2015. Why the change to drab?

Public Art

Recently, there has been an increase in public art in the city. During the 2012 George Town Festival of Arts and Culture, a Lithuanian artist named Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to paint 6 murals on the walls of the city. Considering this city didn’t even have any graffiti, this was a bold step. But the response was tremendous, and it spurred on more commissions, with more great public art on display.

One of the murals that Ernest painted (installed?) was called “Boy on a bike” on Ah Quee street. It’s become one of the most popular places for tourists to shoot photos in George Town. You can even get the same image on t-shirts, mugs, magnets and anything else you can imagine.

When I was recently in Penang, I visited all of his murals, but this one stood out in my memory. That was because his mural was painted over a door that I photographed on my first visit to Penang in 2009. And I loved that door. It was one of my favourite photos from that journey. I like it now, too. But I still feel a little bit of nostalgia for the original. I thought it looked good back then, too. I rest happy in my original memory, and think about how I must have seen the same potential for art that Ernest saw.

A photo showing door detail, in Penang, Malaysia.

Door Detail, Ah Quee Street, Penang, 2009

A photo of a "Boy on a Bike" - public art in Penang, Malaysia.

“Boy on a Bike”, Ah Quee Street, Penang, 2015

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