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Malaysia Murals: The Famous Street Arts in Penang

Street art is an artist’s interpretation of the local’s way of life, culture and historical moments and is often seen as something intriguing. At times, it is about political satire incorporating some humor elements while some presented it in a sarcastic way. Regardless of intentions, Street Art itself has different terms, from graffiti artwork to street poster art.

If you are traveling to Penang, you must never miss out on Penang’s street art. Everyone is looking for Penang’s street art, but not everyone is able to find every piece of art.

The first art project was called Making George Town and was up in 2009. The pieces are cartoon steel-rod sculptures that can still be found throughout the city today. In the summer of 2012, the art project Mirrors George Town put Penang on the map. Lithuanian-born artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to paint six pieces for the annual George Town Festival. The murals portray the everyday lives of the local people. In 2013, Artists for Stray Animals (ASA) did an art project called 101 Lost Kittens, raising awareness for stray animals. In the following year, former bus depot-turned-art center Hin Bus Depot collaborated with Urban Nation for the Urban Xchange: Crossing Over street art project that attracted many artists. That’s also the year Russian artist Julia Volchkova was drawn to the new mural-capital of Asia. From 2014, she has painted many beautiful murals with roots in the local culture, capturing the soul of Penang. In 2018, China House opened Art Lane Penang in an alley full of street art. Penang’s Street art has become more and more popular and we are curious to see what the future brings for this artsy city!

George Town, Penang

Children on Bicycle and Boy on Motorcycle

Lithuanian Artist – Ernest Zacharevic

A young, renowned, and widely traveled, Lithuanian-born artist Ernest Zacharevic has left his mark in many cities around the world but when a pit stop in Penang turned into a numerous year, Zacharevic’s interactive and attractive murals breathed new life into this city – George Town.

The murals and steel-rod sculptures explain the history of places and the people who worked and lived there. The theme was ‘Voices of People’, retelling the history of each part of George Town in the way that the locals would live with their own peculiar brand of wit, humor, and language.

As a Lithuanian artist, Ernest style depicts scenes of everyday Malaysian life using local people as his inspiration. Among them, there are two extremely popular pieces that have been featured all over the world – Children on Bicycle and Boy on Motorcycle.

These two murals are a clever combination of installation and painting that allows admirers to interact with the artworks. They became so popular that tourists line up to take photos and that the street was not the same as it used to be when he first moved there.

Ernest also held his first solo exhibit at the Hin Bus Depot, Penang in 2014. It was called the ‘Art is Rubbish is Art’.

Interview with Ernest by Time Out Penang

You’re all over the place. Where exactly do you live?

You started with the most difficult question.

A Resident of the world?

Yeah, I live everywhere. Last year, I realized it was the first time in five years that I’d spent more than three months in one country.

What’s your hometown like? I read that Lithuania’s population is three million compared to Malaysia’s 30 million. That’s a ratio of 1:10.

Basically. Nine out of twelve months it’s super cold and depressing there.

Is that why you wanted to move to a tropical country?

I like it here. It’s where I come back most often. I still consider myself based here.

What drew you to Malaysia?

When I was studying in London, I would travel every chance I had. I spent some time in Southeast Asia and visited Malaysia. I quite liked it. In college, I became good friends with someone from Penang. One Chinese New Year, I stopped by to see her and to hang out for a bit. Before I knew it, four years had gone by.

Does your family fret about you taking a risk with street art?

Yeah, they do. If I don’t check in with my mum on Sunday evenings, she’ll start Google-ing me. This is directly in response to the JB thing. When I went offline for a while. Otherwise, my parents have always been very supportive of whatever I do.

Do you feel a pang of hurt when your work is removed or painted over?

No. If you’re not ready for it, you don’t go out and put your art on a building that’s been burnt down.

Are you still heavily involved?

I’m still involved, but not as much. We’ve set up a management team and it’s running by itself. Penang is a great place for art because you have all these hungry people waiting for opportunities. They take chances, they take risks, and they have ambition and time rather than working nine-to-five and spending so much time stuck in traffic.

Like in KL?

Yes. 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. It’s quite unbelievable. That’s how things like Hin Bus happened. As I said, the art center is now self-sustainable. It feels great to be a part of something like that.

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