Exploring Penang, one work of street art at a time

I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Penang. I knew of Georgetown’s UNESCO heritage listing so expected the town to feature historic elements, low buildings, that sort of thing, and I had heard good things about the food, and that there was some street art. What I didn’t realise was that the walls of Georgetown are a canvas for street artists, and just about every street corner provides a fascinating insight into life in Penang.

Penang’s street art story

Artist Ernest Zacharevic was asked to paint some murals around Georgetown, and it is his paintings that are probably the most recognisable. The works often incorporate objects such as bicycles and chairs, giving the art a 3-dimensional element. Several other artists have also contributed to the street art collection now too. Georgetown is also home to 52 humorous iron rod sculptures telling Penang’s stories, following a competition run by the Penang State Government in 2009.

The best way to explore Georgetown, as with any city you’re keen to see in detail, is on foot. If you are keen to wander around Penang, at your own pace, and take in some of the street art, I suggest you get hold of a copy of the ‘Marking Georgetown’ map, and follow my suggested Penang street art walk.

1 – Trishaw driver – Jalan Penang

Possibly the largest piece of street art in Penang, the trishaw driver reclining in his vehicle spans the side of a large building, just north of the old town area. It is best viewed early in the day, bathed in early morning sunshine.

Penang street art – Trishaw Driver

2 – Blue girl – Lebuh Muntri

Again, a large painting, the little girl stands between two windows, high on the side of a building. As you progress along Muntri Street she is on the right and you need to look back along the direction you came from to see her.

Penang street art – Blue Girl

3 – Indian boatman – Lorong Stewart

Having crossed Love Lane and entered Stewart Street you will see the Indian Boatman on the right, along a side street after about 100 metres. He stands out nicely on a yellow wall. (From here turn right onto Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, then left onto Gat Lebuh Chulia).

Penang street art – Indian Boatman

4 – Swings – Gat Lebuh Chulia

At the southern end of Chulia Street there is a last alleyway on the left side. Once you have turned into this lane a doorway, festooned with minions, is on the left and the swings are on the right hand side,. The painting is made 3-dimensional by the inclusion of a real swing mounted against the painting and by leaning on the swing you can become part of the artwork.

Penang street art – Swings

5 – Basketball – Gat Lebuh Chulia

Immediately across Lebuh Chulia, there is another alleyway containing a street stall. The basketball-playing children are painted on the northern wall. They are subtle and tucked away in a corner. Sadly the painting is deteriorating a bit.

Penang street art – Basketball

6 – Children taking pancakes from bicycle – Gat Lebuh Armenian

Three paintings are very visible on Armenian Street. The first is the painting of children reaching through a window to pinch food from a bicycle outside. The real bicycle standing against the wall brings the painting to life. The painting is on a shop face on the right side as you walk north from Pengkalan Weld.

Penang street art – Taking pancakes from a bicycle

7 – Fortune Cat – Gat Lebuh Armenian

Further along Armenian Street, on the left, Fortune Cat smiles benignly at passers-by. He is one of several artworks featuring cats, due to the 101 Lost Kittens project, aimed at raising awareness of the needs of stray animals.

Penang street art – Fortune Cat

8 – Blue Cat – Gat Lebuh Armenian

Slightly further along Gat Lebuh Armenian, and opposite a small alley there is a blue cat painted on a small wall, just back from the street. It is often covered by a bicycle hire stand.

Penang street art – Blue Kitten

9 – Bathe us – Gat Lebuh Armenian

Tucked down the side street that a large black rat hides along, and accessible from Armenian street, Bathe Us is a small, and often overlooked painting, outside someone’s front step. It features two wet and scraggy looking cats, highlighting the need to care for animals.

Penang street art – Bathe us

10 – Skippy and rat – Gat Lebuh Armenian

Skippy the ginger cat, painted on the side of a building is enormous. He is best viewed from the southern corner of the building, meaning you can also see a rat painted onto the next side of the building, cheekily lurking around the corner.

Penang street art – Skippy and the rat

11 – Cats and Humans living happily together – Lebuh Pantai

Just inside the boundary wall of the Cheah Kongsi meeting hall, the Cats and Humans painting stretches along a wall perpendicular to Lebuh Pantai. It shows lots of friendly-looking feline faces taking part in a celebration parade.

Penang street art – Cats and Humans

12 – Motorbike – Lebuh Ah Quee

Slightly further along Lebuh Pantai, you turn left into Lebuh Ah Quee. Another famous painting, the motorbike also features a real motorbike, the seat of which has needed to be replaced because so many tourists sit on it for a photo.

Penang street art – Motorbike

13 – Boy with kite – Lebuh Ah Quee

Right next to the motorbike (to the left) is what remains of a painting of a small boy with a kite. A large portion of the painting has been lost, but you can still make out most of the boy, and part of the kite.

Penang street art – Boy with Kite

14 – Bruce Lee – Lebuh Ah Quee

Slightly further along Lebuh Ah Quee, there is an alleyway to the right and the Bruce Lee painting is on the other side of the right-hand wall. Despite appearances, the Bruce Lee painting is actually intended to highlight the importance of taking care of animals properly. The catchline is ‘Bruce Lee wouldn’t do that’.

Penang street art – Bruce Lee

15 – Children on bicycle – Gat Lebuh Armenian / Lebuh Pantai

As you retrace your steps on Lebuh Pantai and turn right onto Armenian Street, you are immediately upon the painting of two children enjoying a bicycle ride (main photo above). This painting is one of the most popular in Penang, possibly because it is a depiction of such joy. It is in a terrible location really, right on that busy corner. There is usually a crowd surrounding it, while traffic also tries to get past.

16 – Learn Hokkein – Lebuh Armenian / Lorong Soc Hong

Further along Armenian Street there is a large purple wall with the enormous face of a young girl painted on it. The artwork comprises the painting on the wall, but also several bits of Hokkein painted on the street surface at the foot of the painting.

Penang street art – Learn Hokkein

17 – 3 girls – Lebuh Armenian / Lorong Soc Hong

A cute little piece depicting three girls, in bright colours is painted on the same wall as ‘Learn Hokkein’. A van selling iced tea is often parked in front of it, so you may need to get up close to spot it.

18 – No Animal Discrimination – Lorong Soc Hong

Tucked around the back of a café on Armenian Street (follow the alleyway along Lorong Soc Hong until it turns left), is a lovely mosaic, again sharing the message of caring for animals.

Penang street art – No Discrinination

19 – Lion – Lebuh Armenian

The lion on Armenian Street is painted on the front of a shop and has a bench in front of it specifically for people to sit and pose with the painting for photos!

Penang street art – Lion

20 – Witch and children – Lebuh Armenian

An amusing painting of a witch and three children, one of whom is screaming, is painted on a paneled door, a few doors along from the lion. It is a fun detail on an otherwise uninspiring shop / store-room front.

Penang street art – Witch and children

21 – Boy on chair – Lebuh Cannon

Cannon Street crosses Armenian Street. At the crossroads, you need to turn left towards a small café on the right that stands nearer the edge of the road than others and has a canopy of coloured umbrellas forming a ceiling. The boy standing on a chair is painted on the wall just to the left of the café.

Penang street art – Boy on chair

You could make a day of this street art trail, or you could do it more quickly in probably around 3-4 hours. However, I’d suggest taking it slowly. Some streets don’t have signs, making navigation a bit confusing, and some of the artworks are tucked away in little alleys off the streets marked on maps so it is best to have a bit of time to look carefully for them. There are also lots of interesting shops, especially along Armenian Street and Cannon Street, which are fun to investigate. Be aware, however, of the overwhelming heat. The streets of Georgetown get remarkably hot during the heat of the day, so a siesta might be in order!

If followed numerically, my Penang Street Art walk ends in an area that is fun to spend a little longer exploring, but if more convenient, or the art works you want to see are at the end of the list, you could easily follow the walk in reverse order. Have fun!

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