Tuesday, 2 August 2016

27. Penang, Malaysia: One Man Can Make a Difference

Little Children on a Bicycle

When we first visited Penang, a small island off the west coast of Malaysia, there was nary a lick of street art to be found in its capital city George Town. That was back in 1988 when you probably wouldn't have found a smidge of outdoor urban art anywhere in Asia.

Last year, we had the good fortune to revisit George Town, and the city had practically transformed itself into a street-art showcase. Murals, large and small, contributed to a new vibrancy. The local tourist office gave out brochures touting the new artwork and maps of where to find it. And it wasn't just about quantity, it was also about quality. It was some of the best street art we had seen anywhere in the world.

So what triggered the big turnaround? We can give you the answer in two words: Ernest Zacharevic.

Zacharevic is a Lithuanian-born artist who almost single-handedly created the Penang street-art scene with a series of six world-acclaimed murals for the 2012 George Town Arts and Culture festival. It was a gutsy move - painting in a city without a single piece of public art, in a culture that wasn't his. But it paid off big time. The BBC called the classically trained artist, "Malaysia's answer to Banksy". 

Zacharevic could also be called an "organic street artist", though in truth, we've never heard anyone actually call him that. In other words, he doesn't just paint fantasies that come out of his imagination. He paints what he sees around him. His works are a combination of 2D art and 3D installations, recycling objects he finds on the streets. Not only do people photograph them, they actually line up to have their photos taken with them:

Boy on a Bike

Little Boy Reaching Up

Kung Fu Girl

The Awaiting Trishaw Peddlar

Two years later, "Zach" as he sometimes calls himself, made a massive contribution (literally) with his first solo show at an abandoned Art Deco bus depot, now re-purposed as the Hin Bus Depot Art Centre:

Boys with Cones

Young Acrobat

The Roadwork Wizard

But he didn't stop there. Zacharevic went on to leave his hand print in other parts of Malaysia, like Kuala Lumpur:

Commissioned Ad for Allianz Insurance Co.

And other countries, like Singapore:

Girl with a Lion Cub

And while we're on the subject of tabbies, if you're a feline lover, make sure to stay tuned for our next post. We guarantee you'll love it!

Following that, we're going to continue our slow saunter through the street art of Malaysia - it's that good - and Zacharevic will feature prominently again.