Do Thi Tham

One of the top destinations in Malaysia, Penang delights visitors with its vibrant arts and cultural diversity..

George Town’s street scene

When young Latvian artist Ernest Zacharevic made a series of graffiti works in George Town, the images rocketed to fame on social media. Mr. Zacharevic’s graffiti project “Mirrors George Town” was part of the George Town Festival 2012, which was sponsored by local authorities. When his most famous work “Little Children on a Bicycle” was finished, it immediately earned Penang and Mr. Zacharevic a coveted spot on the global street arts map. Mr. Zacharevic continues to add new works (his latest piece dates from February 2014), alongside works by local artists.

These artists combine graphics and color blocks, the natural colors of walls, and everyday items such as bicycles, motorbikes, chairs, shoulder poles or trees to create works that inspire viewers of all ages. Famous works such as the “Little Children on a Bicycle”, “Boy on a Bike” or “Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur” have become iconic images of Penang and are featured on souvenirs such as handbags, shirts and notebooks.

Aware of the power of arts, the state authorities attracted a series of unique community artworks through a concept contest in 2009. The result was a series of artworks titled “The Marking George Town Steel Rod Sculptures” consisting of 52 curved iron sculptures. Hung on local streets, the works promote the local history, culture, customs and lifestyle, giving visitors a glimpse into local stories. Topics range from the book “Born Novelist” by famous malaysian writer Ahmad Rashid Talu (1889 – 1939); to king of fashion Jimmy Choo; to the local dish “Char Koay Teow”; to “No Plastic Bag”, about the threat to traditional basket-making. These stories are told in a cartoon style and placed in sites that fit their message. Visitors can stroll through the streets, learn more about the history of Penang and pose for photos with these interesting artworks.

Cherishing the local culture

Central Penang is home to 20 museums of various types, many of them privately owned. Visitors can tour museums of history, warfare, 3D arts, traditional Batik fabrics and glass, as well as my favorite, the Colonial Penang Museum. Here, a two-story villa houses over 1,000 rare antiques dating back to colonial times. Items on display include handwriting by Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang; elaborately carved furniture ordered by native Baba- Nyonya merchants in India; centuryold European marble statues; and 18th century spousal couches with colourful mirrors crafted on the island of Murano in Italy. The museum houses just some of the antiques owned by a family who has spent 50 years collecting antiques from this region and established the museum to preserve Penang’s heritage. This museum is often visited by local schoolchildren.

In 2008 George Town in Penang was registered by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. Over the past two centuries, Penang has been home to people from India, The Middle East, Malaysia, China, Myanmar and Europe. The region’s cultural diversity and respect for traditions have made it a fascinating tourist spot. Penang is now a key destination for visitors to beautiful Malaysia.