I love the street art in Penang and have seen it twice, once in 2018 and more recently in 2023. I now feel I can speak with authority on Penang street art and whether it is still worth seeing in 2024.
On both visits to Penang, I took numerous photographs of the street art. This gives an interesting comparison of the street art murals in George Town today compared to five years ago.
Has time taken its toll on Penang’s famous murals, or are they still worth seeing?
In this blog post, you will find the answer. I have plotted a map to help you find the street art in George Town. There is information about the street artists responsible for each mural. You will also learn the history of street art in Penang and how it turned George Town from obscurity into one of the world’s most famous street art cities.
What is the condition in 2024 of the Penang Street Art Murals?
When I last visited over five years ago, the murals were already showing signs of deterioration. The paint was fading; plaster was coming away from the walls, and bricks were starting to be exposed. At this point, the street art in Penang had already been gracing George Town’s walls for six years, so weathering had started to affect the once-pristine murals. This natural occurrence added an aged look to the murals, which worked well, and visitors continued to add Penang to their Malaysia travel itinerary.
On my recent visit in 2023, I found that the deterioration has continued, as one would expect, leading to one or two murals being almost completely eradicated. Apart from them, the old favourites like Boy on a Motorbike and Brother and Sister on a Swing still look okay and continue to draw tourists to George Town like magnets.
We chatted with some locals and asked why bricks were missing from several of the murals. The answer was that tourists pull loose ones from the walls and take them home for souvenirs! Fact of fiction – who knows, but I can believe it could be true.
Will the murals in Penang be restored?
And, as for whether this Unesco-listed heritage town will try to save the street art that put it firmly on travellers’ radars, it is unlikely. The original intent of the street art was to highlight Penang to international tourists, but the art was always intended to have a finite presence.
So, is it worth visiting Penang to see the street art in 2024? My answer is yes! Many cities worldwide have a diverse range of murals and street art, and I have visited quite a few of them; however, for me, the Penang wall art remains as inspiring today as when it was first created.
Where To Find Street Art in George Town, Penang
The answer is just about everywhere. On the sides of buildings, inside shops, on pavements, down alleyways and even in the bus depot! Penang is the street art hub of Malaysia, so you won’t have to look far to find urban art in Georgetown.
The most famous pieces of Penang street art can be found around Chulia Street, Armenian Street, Cannon Street, and Ah Quee Street. Use the map below to help you easily locate George Town street art.
Penang Street Art Google Map
Half the fun of seeing the Penang street art in George Town is randomly coming across it as you turn a corner, cross a road, or enter a building. For this reason, I have included the murals and street art that I talk about in this post on my Penang street art map, but I have left everything else for you to find on your own.
Believe me; there are loads scattered all over George Town, so lose yourself, explore the town and see which other pieces of street art in Penang you can find. Please leave me a comment if you discover anything new during your visit.
Please download this Penang art street map to your phone so you can easily find the Georgetown street art locations as you stroll around town.
Penang Street Art History
The George Town Festival in Penang is an annual event that celebrates its 15th year in 2024. If you are in Penang between July 19th and 28th, you will be able to be part of the “HERE & NOW” theme.
But how did it all start? In 2009, after George Town was given Unesco World Heritage status, the Malaysian government decided they needed to put Penang on the international map. How would they turn a relatively unknown part of Malaysia into a destination that would bring tourism to the state? The answer was to launch an art competition called ‘Marking George Town’, which would give the town a unique identity of its own.
Marking George Town Iron Rod Street Art in Penang
The winner of the competition was a Kuala Lumpur art studio called ‘Sculpture at Work’. They created fifty-two large metal rod art pieces, which can be found all around town. Each one tells the story of everyday life in George Town through whimsical, cartoon-like scenes. They are often overlooked in favour of the street art murals in Penang, but I think they deserve equal attention as they are fun to see and very informative.
The four artists who created the George Town art project were Tang Mun Kian (31 pieces), Reggie Lee (11 pieces), Baba Chuah (5 pieces), and Julian “Lefty” Kam (5 pieces). You can see some of their creations below. Each one shows where it is located, making finding them pretty easy. A QR code is on the wall beside each sculpture, giving you further information about the piece.
Street Artist Baba Chuah Steel Wire Art Pieces
Lifesize wire sculpture can be seen everywhere in George Town.
Who would have known Jimmy Choo started his apprenticeship in George Town?
Yeoh Kongsi was established in 1836 to look after the welfare of the newly arrived Yeoh clansmen from China.
Street Artist Reggie Lee Steel Wire Art Pieces
At the turn of the last century, many shophouses were turned into cheap hotels, making this internationally known tourist spot very popular with backpackers.
Ah Quee Street was named after Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee, who donated his house to the town for vehicular access.
To the dismay of the parishioners of the Portuguese church there, Church Street also housed the headquarters of the notorious Cree Hin secret society.
‘Bullock Cart Wheel’
I love finding out information like this from the wire art sculptures in Penang. It seems that in the days when your money could be as big as a bullock cart wheel, this place was a place for rest stops for the limousines (posh rickshaws) of that time.
Street Artist Tang Mun Kian Steel Wire Art Pieces
The Grand Float Procession was held in the Year of the Tiger to wash away bad luck and bring great wealth and health.
A cannon shot fired during the 1867 Penang Riots made a large hole in this area, hence the name Cannon Street.
‘Then and Now‘
The Hokkiens called this street Pak Thang Ah Kay or ‘coppersmiths street’, a reference to the early Malay braziery making brass and copper-ware.
‘Where’s My Husband?‘
Love Lane got its name from the local Chinese, as the rich men who lived on Muntri Street kept their mistresses there! This is one of the tongue-in-cheek pieces of steel rod sculpture around George Town that just make you smile.
‘Ting Ting Thong‘
This is the last of the wire art sculptures I will include in this post, as I don’t want to spoil your fun finding all the others. It is called Ting Ting Thong and shows the ‘Rock Candy’ man selling his sweets made of sugar, seeds and nuts. The sweets were rock solid, and the noise made by his hammer breaking them into manageable chunks made the sound of Ting Ting Thong!
What I liked about this one was how the sun casts a shadow on the wall behind the wire art, giving it a three-dimensional look. I think it looks cool, don’t you?
Mirrors George Town Art Project 2012
Street Artist Ernest Zacharevic
If you are interested in street art, then the name Ernest Zacharevic is one you are probably familiar with, as his work can be found across the globe. But did you know it was in Penang that the Lithuanian artist made a name for himself?
In 2012, after the success of the ‘Marking George Town Project’, Zacharevic, a then relatively unknown street artist, was commissioned by the town to create several murals as part of the George Town Festival 2012. It was called ‘Mirrors George Town’.
The goal of the art project was to highlight the local characters of Penang through a series of murals. Little did anyone know then that these Penang wall murals would cause such a stir and attract tourists to see these urban works of art for years afterwards.
What made Zacharevic’s street art stand out was the use of objects, including a motorbike, a chair, a footstool, and a pushbike, that allowed the public to interact with the street art. This type of 3D street art in Penang became so popular that long queues to be photographed with it became the norm (and still was when I visited).
Street Artist Louis Gan
Two of the popular murals in Penang are often mistaken as works by Zacharevic. This is due to the similar use of pastel colours and props. They were actually painted in 2012 by Louis Gan, a deaf-mute self-taught street muralist. As far as is known, Gan didn’t paint any others even though he had been commissioned to do so. Brother and Sister on a Swing is one of the most famous pieces of street art in George Town but, sadly, also one of the most decayed.
Cat Street Art in George Town ‘Lost Kittens’ 2013
The following year, 2013, Zacharevic returned to Penang to take part in the ‘101 Lost Kittens’ art project. This time, the subject matter was cats. He was to produce a dozen or more cat-focused pieces of street art, both large and small, to highlight the plight of abandoned and homeless cats in George Town. It didn’t have quite the same impact as the murals he produced in 2012; however, the pieces are cute to see and remain an important part of the rise to fame of Penang’s street art culture.
If you are a fan of Zacharevic’s work, a few more pieces can be seen painted on the crumbling walls at the Hin Bus Depot. Address: 31, Jalan Gurdwara, 10300 George Town
George Town Festival 2014
Street Artist Julia Volchkova
Following on from the intense focus that George Town was receiving from international tourists, other street artists arrived in Penang. One of them was the Russian artist Julia Volchkova.
Two of Volchkova’s most recognisable pieces of street art in Penang, painted in 2014, are shown below.
The first is a painting of a man with one leg that Julia met while in Georgetown. Rumour has it that he was playing a beautiful melody, and she was enchanted by it and decided to paint a portrait of him. Since then, other urban artists have put their stamp on the same wall, which is a shame; however, street art is always evolving, and like other fading George Town murals in Penang, this will be gone one day.
Location: Love Lane
The second piece is the acclaimed Indian Boatman. You will find it on the corner of Lorong Stewart and Lebuh Klang.
You will see more of Volchkova’s street art in Malaysia. In Balik Pulau, she painted a Hakka dancing girl on the side of a building. And don’t miss the one in Kuala Lumpur of an elderly Goldsmith at work in Chinatown.
George Town Festival 2016
Street Artist Cloakwork
The annual George Town Festival for Creative Art 2016 invited global street artists to Penang. One of the artists, Cloakwork, created the mural below and entitled it ‘Burning – Only You Can Stop Air Pollution’. Rather than focusing on local characters, it concentrated on a worldwide environmental issue. It has now faded quite a bit, but you can still make out the figure wearing a gas mask and holding a balloon. Notice the cigarette butts sticking out of the wall, giving it a secondary dimension.
George Town Festival 2018
Street Artist Yip Yew Chong
Another artist who has stamped his style on George Town is the Singapore muralist Yip Yew Chong.
His talents can be seen at George Town’s Chew Jetty. Here, you’ll see a man relaxing on a hammock with children playing around him. So far, this mural painted by Yip Yew Chong in 2018 is the only one I have found in Penang. However, if you ever get to Singapore, many of the pieces of street art in Chinatown were created by him and are incredible to see.
A mural in Singapore by Yew Yip Chong depicts a shoemaker and his wife.
Most Famous Penang Street Art Murals
‘I want Bao’ Armenian Street
Street Artist W.K. Setor
Location: On Lebuh Armenian near the corner of Lebuh Pantai. On the wall of the Ming Xiang Tai Pastry Shop.
One of the fun things about the street art of Penang is you can be part of it. Using props like stools and bikes means you can have an interactive experience with many of the murals. You can also take some cool 3D-looking photographs.
I first stumbled upon the ‘I Want Bao’ mural after leaving the pastry shop where we had enjoyed one of their famous egg custard tarts. The bakery commissioned the mural, one of the popular street art pieces in George Town.
When I revisited it, it had faded slightly, but apart from that, it looked in good condition. I think being shaded from the sun under the canopy has helped a great deal. And did I go in and buy a fabled Ming Xiang Tai egg custard tart? I tried to, but they had sold out. Be sure to get there before noon to get your hands on one!
‘Reaching Up Boy On Chair’ Cannon Street
Artist: Ernest Zacharevic
Location: On Lebuh Cannon near the corner of Lebuh Acheh
You can see from the contrasting photographs of this mural of a little boy on a chair that while the paint has stayed more or less intact, the surrounds of it have not.
When I first visited, there was a tin roof above it, protecting it from the elements, and the wooden chair was in good condition. The roof has now gone, the shop it was next to closed and the seat of the chair, albeit different from the original one (notice the leg spindles), is broken. Nevertheless, I still love it!
‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ Armenian Street
Artist: Ernest Zacharevic
Location: Armenian Street
This is one of two murals in Penang that I absolutely love. Like the ‘Boy on a Motorbike’ mural, people join long queues to be snapped with an iconic piece of street art in Penang.
On my first visit, I captured this image at night, and there was only me and one other couple around, so we had it to ourselves. It was very different during the day when we revisited in 2023. We turned the corner and saw a lengthy line of tourists waiting for their turn to be photographed by the mural.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m British, so queueing is my way of life; however, in 35-degree heat, I had no intention of waiting in line. So, while the young and beautiful preened themselves and changed outfits between shots, I nipped in for this one photograph and was on my way. In this instance, queuing while each individual took about 50 images was not going to happen on my watch!
I am glad to say that I didn’t see much deterioration in this mural. Just a little paint peeling from the boy’s back. I still adore it as much as I did when I first set eyes upon it, and I think I always will.
‘Boy on a Motorbike’ Ah Quee
Artist: Ernest Zacharevic.
Location: On Lebuh Ah Quee near the corner of Lebuh Pantai.
This is the second of my two favourite pieces of Penang street art. I like it so much that I had the image on the left enlarged and framed in my house. After my first evening of wandering the streets of Penang and stumbling across this iconic mural in George Town, it embodied everything I had fallen in love with on this Malaysian island. It was rough around the edges but with a strong cultural centre and a colourful history.
On this visit in 2023, the mural looked slightly faded, and the leather motorbike seat had been replaced with a floral cloth. It looked more like an ironing board cover than a motorbike seat, but hey ho, needs must and all that!
The main deterioration had happened to the wall beside the mural. Where there was once a piece of art showing a boy holding a floating dinosaur, there was now just a faint hint of what once had been there. The plaster had crumbled, and the bare red brickwork had taken on a rather ramshackle look of its own. Even so, there’s something so raw about George Town’s street art that this distressed look almost feels like it was meant to be.
‘Brother and Sister on a Swing’ Chulia Street
Artist: Louis Gan (2012)
Location: On Chulia Street near the corner of Lebuh Victoria and close to the Chew Clan jetty.
Often mistaken as the work of Ernest Zacharevic, it was Louis Gan, a deaf-mute self-taught street muralist, who created the following two popular murals.
Out of all the street art in Penang, the Brother and Sister on a Swing had deteriorated the most, with both exposed and missing bricks. The whole 3D mural looked very weathered, and I would imagine if I returned in another five years, it would be gone. I feel lucky that I have had the chance to visit Penang twice and see the George Town street art before it all disappears, ravaged by the elements and the amount of tourists interacting with it (me included).
‘Old Soy Milk Stall’ Chulia Street
Artist: Chin Choon Yau and the children of St. Xavier’s Institution
Location: On Lebuh Chulia, between Victoria Street and Pengkalan Weld – next to the ‘Brother and Sister on a Swing’ mural.
This Penang mural was a collaboration with Vilmedia and Homesoy, the popular milk drink in Malaysia. It shows a grandma serving Susu Soya, Asli and Segar (pure and fresh soya milk) to two children. Chin Choon Yau also created another mural featuring Homesoy in Ipoh, Perak.
If you love the street art in Penang, it would be worth seeing the street art in Ipoh. Although there’s nowhere near as much as in George Town, there are still some really great pieces to see.
‘Hoola Hoop Basketball’ Chulia Street
Artist: Louis Gan (2012)
Location: Lebuh Chulia, opposite the ‘Brother and Sister on a Swing’ Penang street art.
A little bit of fading and the addition of another artist’s tag at the bottom of this Penang wall painting are the only changes to the image of children playing basketball. There is no longer a basketball to use for your photographs, as there once was, so you’ll have to use an imaginary one as I did!
‘Burning – Only You Can Stop Air Pollution’ Ah Quee Street
Location: Next to ‘Boy on Motorbike’ on Ah Quee Street.
This is one of the older pieces of Penang street art. The mural shows a person wearing a gas mask and holding a balloon with cigarettes protruding from the wall. It was created during the 2016 George Town Mural Festival. The balloon did have a red no-smoking logo, but it has almost faded away.
Other Famous Wall Murals in Penang
Besides the well-known murals in Penang, many lesser-visited murals deserve mention.
‘Big Mouth’ Muntri Street
Artist: Gabriel Pitcher
Location: Muntri Street.
This piece of Penang street art is just around the corner from where I was staying at The Blue Mansion. At first, the painting simply looks like a wisened old man with his mouth open, forming the entrance to the covered walkway. At a second glance, you notice to the left and tucked into the corner, the inside of his mouth showing teeth and tongue. It’s very well thought out, and apart from fading to his beard and a tree beginning to make the brickwork its home, this mural remains pretty much intact.
‘ KungFu Little Girl in Blue’ Muntri Street
Artist: Ernest Zacharevic, one of the original six murals painted by him in 2012.
Location: On Jalan Muntri.
‘The Awaiting Trishaw Pedaler’ Jalan Penang
Artist: Ernest Zacharevic, one of the original six murals painted by him in 2012.
Location: On Jalan Penang.
‘The Window Cat’ Cannon Street
Location: On the corner of Cannon and Acheh Street (close to the boy on the chair)
‘Tiger Mural’ Chulia Street
Location: China House, 153 Beach St.
China Town should be on every visitor’s itinerary just for its selection of cakes! It is a firm favourite for locals and tourists wanting a hit of sugar after sightseeing. I visited China House twice in 2018 and again in 2023, and yes, the cakes are still as delicious. Out the back is a moon gate, pond and seating area, where these murals are found on the walls.
‘Teach You Hokkien’
Artists: Jim Oo Chun Hee and John Cheng
Location: Soo Hong Lane
On my last visit, this mural had words written inside the bubble, but they have been taken out for some reason. It is still in pretty good condition.
Next to the boy is a piece of Penang’s wire art showing a trishaw vendor pulling his passengers along the road. This is just one of many funny and informative wire art pieces in Penang, designed by Tang Mun Kian for the Marking George Town Festival 2009. You will find 52 pieces of wire art in George Town, all with the same cartoon-style imagery.
On the same purple wall is a tiny piece of street art entitled Cultural Girls, depicting three doll-like characters representing Malaysia’s three races. It is bearing up considerably well, considering its size.
These are two more examples of street art styles that you will see in George Town. These were both around in 2018 when I last visited and looked in relatively good condition in 2023.
‘Cheah Kongsi Chingay Procession March’
Street Artist: Tang Yeok Khong
Location: Cheah Kongsi 8, Lebuh Armenian, George Town / Opening Hours: Daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. There is a small entrance fee.
If you are visiting Penang for a few days, you will no doubt be heading to see the clan houses. They are both historic and elaborate. They showcase when Chinese immigrants arrived in George Town and set up places to meet with their relatives.
This mural is in the garden of Cheah Kongsi, the oldest clan house in Penang. In 2018, it showed cats wearing blue jackets in a parade and was called Cats and Humans Living Happily Together. Fast-forward to 2022, and it was replaced by a mural of Chinese men in blue jackets in a procession with decorative lanterns and banners. This is a new and vibrant piece of wall art in Penang, and it’s great to see.
Penang Street Art Photos of Umbrella Alley
Umbrella Alley gets its name from, you’ve guessed it, the umbrellas overhead. It is also where you will find several pieces of Penang street art. I can’t remember this alley being here in 2018, so seeing some new street art in George Town was great, even if it is already starting to fade.
Street Artist: iwayandonal
Location: Umbrella Alley between Pitt Street and Soo Hong Lane
The Golden Cat mural painted in 2019 is just one of many cat paintings you will see around Georgetown. They love cats in Penang – there’s even a cat cafe called Catonomy where you can sip coffee while playing with the felines!
You’ll see cats painted on the walls of Penang no matter where you wander. In 2013, Malaysian and Thai artists collaborated under the banner of Artists for Stray Animals to create a compelling portrayal of unwanted and stray animals called 101 Lost Kittens. Their artwork aimed to heighten awareness regarding the plight of stray animals, urging people to consider adoption.
This next colourful mural along Umbrella Alley depicts the indigenous people of Malaysia. I added the Mari Mari cultural show to my Borneo itinerary during my month in Malaysia. The Mari Mari show/tour is set in an authentic village and highlights how the indigenous folk of Malaysia would have lived. If you get the chance to go to Borneo, I would recommend visiting the Mari Mari village.
It seems wherever you go in the world, you will find angel wings painted on a wall. And, of course, I just had to have a photo taken with them.
Find this piece inside the entrance of a cat-themed souvenir shop at 60 Lebuh Acheh. If you love cats, you won’t want to miss this place!
Art Lane on Beach Street
Beach Street has really been brightened up since 2018. It runs alongside the Penang Fire Station and now has a mural dedicated to the Penang firefighters along its length. You can’t miss the red and white building with the larger-than-life sign telling the world that George Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
In my opinion, it is a completely well-deserved award.
The dates on the murals show just how new they all are.
This 3D dragon and mystical bird mural in George Town caught my eye. The second dragon mural was randomly painted on a wall at the entrance to a shop.
Penang Street Art At Night
When I visited George Town in 2018, I looked at the murals during the day and then purposely returned to see the Penang street art at night when the crowds had all gone. Seeing them at night is a very different experience from during the day. One, it’s nowhere near as hot, and two, the light gives a different hue to the paint, almost like a golden glow. If you are spending a few days in George Town, I would say it is worth seeing the pieces both in the day and at night.
These three photographs were all taken around 11.00 p.m., and as you can see, the nearby streetlamps illuminated them beautifully. Just be aware of who is around you when you are taking photographs late at night. I was with someone and have always felt safe in George Town, but it’s good to be vigilant, just in case!
Places to Visit in George Town Penang
Are you wondering what to do after seeing all the street art? Well, there are plenty of things to do and places to visit in Penang!
Discover the history of George Town Penang at the clan houses or join a heritage mansion tour. Or why not simply wander around George Town’s narrow alleyways to find great places to eat and drink? Stroll by the water along the Chew Jetty or take the funicular to Penang Hill’s rainforest? It’s a pretty special place to see. And don’t miss visiting Kek Lok Si, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.
Where to stay in George Town
You’ll find plenty of options for places to stay in George Town. They suit all budgets, from backpacking hostels to luxury heritage hotels. I stayed in the heritage Blue Mansion (Cheong Fatt Tze) on both of my visits and would recommend it completely. You may like to read my Blue Mansion Review.
If you are interested in staying in another heritage hotel, have a look at the Seven Terraces.
You can check pricing and availability here on Booking.com for more places to stay in George Town.
Final Thoughts – What Do We Really Think Of Penang Street Art?
I may be biased, but I would say that Penang is one of Southeast Asia’s most interesting and vibrant places to visit for street art. It has a melting pot of nationalities packed into a small island, giving it a subtle diversity that I find enchanting. Even though it is a bustling town, you don’t feel overwhelmed, and if you do, then it’s in a good way, like – wow, I can’t believe I’m here!
While some of the Penang street art is deteriorating and will one day be gone completely, it is still worth seeing if you love art, creativity, and the vibe that comes with it. So don’t leave it too long; book that flight today and see the amazing street art in Penang for yourself!
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