• Francine Beaton

Georgetown - Street Art

According to Wikipedia street art is “…visual art created in public locations; usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues. Other terms for this art include “independent public art”, “post-graffiti”, and “neo-graffiti”, and is closely related to guerrilla art.

But when is it street art and when is it vandalism? According to https://davidcharlesfox.com/what-is-street-art-history-definition-purpose-importance/, the legal distinction between permanent graffiti or other forms of street art and official art is permission.

One city who embraced this art form is Georgetown, the capital city of Pulau Pinang (Penang Island). Penang is a state in northwest Malaysia comprising mainland Seberang Perai and Penang Island and separated from the mainland by the Penang Strait.

On the island, the state capital is home to landmarks such as colonial Fort Cornwallis, the ornate Chinese clan house Khoo Kongsi and the Kapitan Keling Mosque, all testaments to centuries of foreign influence but these days Penang is also known to travellers for its street art and its incredible food.

But how did the street art started?

In 2009, the State Government opened an international pitch under the campaign “Marking George Town” for artists to pitch their ideas to retell the history of the streets and stories of its communities in a local voice. This was done to brand the UNESCO World Heritage town to make it more exciting and informative for the public.

Under the direction of a local artist, Tang Mun Kian, who won the commission with the theme “Voices of the People,” it culminated in a series of steel-rod-caricatures. These sculptures tell the history of Penang through Penang characters with their own peculiar brand of wit and humour. The work started in 2010, and there is now approximately 52 of these steel sculptures.

Jimmy Choo-Sculpture, No. 52, Lebuh Leith

In 2012, the Penang Municipal Council commissioned another international artist. Ernest Zacharevic created a project called ‘Mirrors George Town.’ He gave the town a series of graffiti sites, retelling the story of Penang with his own mind and ideas. These are now one of the top attractions for tourists in Penang. Zacharevic painted about eight of these works you now find in Georgetown. Several other artists followed in his footsteps and there now are plenty more artworks to discover.

Children on a bicycle, (2012) by Zacharevic, 2 Lebuh Armenian
Brother and Sister on the Swing (2012)

There are about 14 wall murals depicting cats. Why so many, you may ask? The “101 Lost Kittens Project” is an initiative championed by Artists for Stray Animals (ASA) to help raise awareness and curb high stray populations in Penang. Most of these murals are found on the second half of Lebuh Armenian (Armenian Street) past the Beach Street intersection.

Swinging cat, about 20m from the entrance of Cannon Square
Dreamy cat, called by some the “Fortune Cat”, the western end of Armenian Street
I can help catch rats, a small side alley just off Lebuh Armenian to your right next to a souvenir shop (known on google maps as “Red Penang Cultural House”)

Resting tomcat, Gat Lebuh Armenian
Children playing Basketball (2012), Louis Gan, Gat Lebuh Chulia (Next to the Container Hotel to your right in a little patio) UPDATE: since I’ve taken the photo the basketball is gone, but the mural has been restored

Though street art in Georgetown is everywhere, spotting it can sometimes be tricky because every piece of art look so real that don’t realise that you are looking at one that has been painted unless you look twice. A boy reaching for a hole standing on a real chair, or an elderly man on his rickshaw paddler having a break — the way how painting and actual objects have been used together is amazing.

It is not always easy to get a great angle of these artworks because it is in places where most people go about their everyday life. You might find it obscured by a vehicle or other times you had to fight for your chance to get a clear picture.

I want Bao! 28, Gat Lebuh Armenian

If you don’t want to walk from artwork to artwork, there are many rickshaw peddlers in the area which will be all too willing to peddle you around. And make sure you have more than one map. Some only feature a few artworks. With 52 sculptures and more than 30 other pieces of artwork, you have a lot of ground to cover.

If you are short of time, stick to the Labuh Armenian and Gat Lebuh Armenia as a few popular ones are further away. It doesn’t matter, though. You’ll get plenty to see while you’re there.

The girl with the balloons, Straits Quay, Zacharev
Teach You Hokkien (2014)
“Owl standing.”
Artist at work
The Giant Rat - after the Giant Cat mural was completed, an anonymous artist painted a giant rat at the other side of the wall. The rat can be seen hiding from the cat at the corner of the building, as shown in the picture abvoe.

These are only some of the street art I’ve photographed. I’ll add more to my Facebook page Florescence as time goes on. Please follow the page on Facebook and Instagram to see more of my photos.

The Girl with Tree Hair, Chulia Street by Vexta.


South Africans don’t need a visa as a three-month visa upon entry.



If you want to see more street art in Penang, you can download a map from Tourism Penang


Penang Tourist Information Centre

Phone: +604-264 3494/263 4941

Fax: +604-262 3688

Email: mtpbpen@tourism.gov.my


Hotels, guesthouses and AirBnBs are plenty. Check through your travel agent or favourite booking platform.



Grab, similar to Uber is a popular form of transport, but the bus services are good and taxis and rickshaw taxis are found near all the popular tourist sites.



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