Penang street art is a highlight of any trip to Georgetown. Here’s our introduction to the amazing art you can see in Penang Island’s capital city and where you can find it…
Now I don’t pretend to be an art connoisseur of any kind. Seriously, I couldn’t tell a Picasso from a Pollock. I’m proud of the fact I can point out a Banksy (as I should, living close to Bristol) and can name a Van Gough, but if I’m honest with you that’s as far as my art knowledge goes.
Even so, I was really keen to go on an art treasure hunt around Georgetown’s UNESCO heritage site, as the area has become renowned for its street art.
Penang street art history
Penang’s become famous for its street art thanks to the work of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, who was commissioned to create a series of six wall murals across the town for the 2012 George Town Festival.
They’ve been hugely popular ever since as they bring the local people to life, providing glimpses into everyday goings on of the city as well as often being fun and interactive – for example, perch on the back of the bike at ‘Kids on a Bicycle’ (see top photo).
Other artists have followed this style, as with other pieces of art, like ‘Brother and Sister on a Swing’ on Gat Lebuh Chulia, where you can sit next to them on a swing for a fun photo op.
The street art scene has gone from strength to strength since then, with more and more walls ‘coming to life’, thanks to projects such as Urban Xchange, which created a platform for collaboration and discussion among artists that cut across continents, disciplines and generations.
In recent years the work of Russian artist Julia Volchkova has also become popular, especially her piece ‘Indian Boatman’ on Lorong Stewart as well as other artists, such as Louis Gan who created Children Playing Basketball’, which is also on Gat Lebuh Chulia.
Want to learn more about what Penang has to offer? We recommend Lonely Planet’s Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Penang Travel Guide.
Guided tours of Penang street art
You can do a Penang street art trishaw tour or walking tour, which I highly recommend if you want to see all the main pieces, but we just printed out a map and went for a wander, which I really enjoyed. It was actually a great way to explore the town, searching out new pieces of art, and I feel that I saw so much more of what George Town has to offer this way.
Sometimes it can be quite easy to find the next piece, simply follow the crowd, but I quickly learnt to keep your eyes peeled as there’s so much to see!
Marking George Town
Before Zacharevic’s series started to don walls there was also Marking George Town. This is a series of 52 – yep, you read that right – steel rod sculptures found all over the city.
Commissioned by the Penang State Government back in 2009 as an initiative to ‘physically brand’ the UNESCO world heritage site with the theme ‘voices of the people’, these are reminiscent of ink-drawn comic book strips, each telling a story related to the location where they’re found or just local history and culture in general.
Make sure to read the description, as this will explain the history in full. Discover where a prison once stood, that early astrologers used to use parakeets to tell the future, and that there’s Chinese belief that if you draw and then burn pictures of your material belongings you’ll be able to continue enjoying them in the afterlife.
The Marking George Town series was created by a group of local artists, including comic book creator Lefty and newspaper cartoonist Reggie Lee. Like most public art each piece was never given a ‘formal’ name, and so are widely known by the subject matter they cover.
Some are quite easy to find but others are hidden away down side streets. I highly recommend making the time to hunt these out, as you can learn so much about the history of Georgetown from the quirky stories they tell.
Some of the most famous include the ‘cheating husband’ sculpture with a wealthy man hanging out of his mistress’ window on Love Lane, and Jimmy Choo; which taught me that the famous shoe designer actually started his career as an apprentice here in Penang. This shoe shop is still open for business today.
It’s also worth noting that all the pieces of art are kindly lit up in the evenings, so if you don’t want to venture out during the heat of the day you can still enjoy them – and take good photos – in the cooler, quieter evening hours…
Looking for accommodation in Penang? We recommend Lone Pine in Batu Ferringhi. Read our review to find out why…
101 Lost Kittens
There’s yet another series of street artworks, and these might be my favourites, simply because they contain…cats! Yes, I am that much of a cat lady. What of it?!
Found all around the famous Armenian Street, 101 Lost Kittens is a series of 12 pieces of artwork commissioned for the 2013 George Town Festival by Artists for Stray Animals (ASA).
Created by a group of Malaysian and Thai artists, they were designed to bring attention to the plight of stray cats, so great art and an important issue.
Highlights include ‘Cats & Humans Happily Living Together’ and Please Care & Bathe Me’. Since they went up other artists have added their own cat related artwork to walls, so well worth exploring this area of the city.
You should also remember, however, that street art is transient, so for every visitor the street art of George Town may be different.
Sadly some of the art has already been worn away or damaged, such as potentially my favourite Penang mural; ‘The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This’ (it used to contain three kitties).
But then there are others that local artists have added their own touches too, such as round the corner from Skippy…
Butterworth Art Walk
Georgetown’s street art became so popular that the trend spread to the mainland. In more recent years Butterworth has also started to develop its own street art scene and visitors can now learn more about this region of Penang by walking along Lorong Bagan Luar.
Check out Tripadvisor to find out more about Butterworth Art Walks!
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Finding the street art in George Town, Penang
If you’re not interested in doing a guided tour of the Penang street art, it is pretty easy to find a lot of the artwork yourself – especially if you use a map or app!
Penang street art map
Finding George Town’s street art isn’t that hard and it’s not tough on the feet either. The majority of the artwork is confined to a small area that’s actually really pretty to explore, with lovely little cafes and quirky gift shops to be found around every corner.
It’s tougher if you want to tick off every piece of art, and some of the larger pieces are a little more out of the way, but to help you your way I’d recommend checking out Street Art Penang, which has a map of all the pieces of art, as well as two Google map routes you can follow.
Once Upon a Journey also has a great guide to all the Penang Murals (but not the Marking George Town series) and useful maps. If you want a downloadable PDF of all the Marking George Town pieces, then you can find this on the Penang Tourism Board website.
Penang street art app
If paper maps aren’t your thing, then you’ll be happy to know there are now handy Penang street art apps that help you find murals and learn more about them.
Want to know what else to see and do in Penang? Check out our guide!
Street art Georgetown – pin for later!
So there you have it our guide to street art in Penang. I hope you’ve found this useful, but if you have any questions you’d like to ask don’t hesitate to give us a shout in the comments below and we’ll gladly help.
Why not save one of the pins below so you’ll always have our helpful guide to hand..?