Painting the town red: Penang’s street art commended in new travel guide

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A NEW travel guide commissioned by Lonely Planet reveals the world’s best cities and locations for street art.

Among the more predictable entries such as London, Berlin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the guide also shone a light on commendable street art in Asia Pacific cities including Melbourne, Adelaide, and Christchurch.

For Southeast Asia, the only entry to make the list is Malaysia’s George Town, the capital of the northern state of Penang where the street art scene remains young, only making waves in the last five years.

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Many of the striking street art pieces scattered around the city are the works of London-trained Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic.

In 2012, the young artist was hired by the Penang Municipal Council to create an extensive street art project titled “Mirrors George Town” for the George Town Festival.

The results were lapped up by locals and visitors alike, and fast forward to present day, Zacharevic’s works – most of which reflect a nostalgic Malaysiana and feature kids – have become something of an icon in the UNESCO World Heritage city.

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On the weekends, it’s not unusual to see hordes of visitors snapping photos with Zacharevic’s murals, which have become tourist attractions themselves.

Louis Gan, a self-taught deaf and mute local artist also contributed to George Town’s status as a canvas for street art when he painted along Lebuh Chulia an endearing snapshot of a pair of young siblings balancing on a swing set.

While many of these murals depict the good ol’ days of yesteryears, George Town could well be painting its future as a street art magnet by using its frayed, prettied walls to drive up tourist numbers.

Words by Surekha Ragavan.