Saturday, 25 March 2017

29. George Town: Pushing the Fast-Forward Button

What do you do if you're a city that already has a pretty good core of street art, but you want more, more, more - both in quality and in quantity? Well, if you're George Town, Malaysia you invite 16 of the best local and international street artists and set them loose on your blank walls. That's exactly what George Town did in 2014, under the umbrella "Urban Exchange: Crossing Over."

As luck would have it, we were in Penang just a couple of months after the festival, so we saw the murals in relatively pristine form. The most colourful ones by far were those brought to life by Brooklyn's Elle, a graffiti artist turned muralist. Her work, as always, was big and bright - maybe that's what you have  to do to get noticed in New York:


Local artist Bibichun was no slouch in the colour department either, whether working on his own:

Or as a member of 4Some Crew, :

Elle's Australian friend, Vexta, created the mural that we saw first and most often, perhaps close to 50 times. That's because it covered the enormous side wall of our hotel. Like much of her work, it has a dreamlike quality to it as she tries to connect the dots between the personal and the universal:

Vexta's second mural was the complete opposite: small, well-hidden in a garage, and we were lucky to have spotted it even once:

Antanas Dubra, from Vilnius, Lithuania, contributed a pair of portraits on buildings across the street from each other. Both portraits were caricatures of the artist himself.

American Addison Karl added a more sombre note to the proceedings:

As did Australian Rone, who says he tries to capture the friction point between beauty and decay:

Tank Petrol is a Polish street artist who relocated to Manchester, UK. He actually was a tank gunner and tank driver in the army. Like many of his other works, his mural in Penang contains a woman surrounded by animals and geometric forms like upside-down triangles:

And last but not least, Ernest Zacharevic, who launched the George Town street-art movement in 2012, teamed up with Etoja on this rather unusual piece:

Penang is now one of the world capitals for street art, and it's onward and upward for this Malaysian town.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

28. The Cats of George Town

Street art embellishes our communities in so many ways. It offers a kaleidoscope of images to contemplate, appreciate or maybe just laugh at as we go about our daily ways. It beautifies and revitalizes derelict areas and often serves as the first step toward renewal. It provides an outlet for the type of political and social commentary at which artists like Banksy excel. And it even raises and magnifies the awareness of social issues that demand our attention.

Today we're going to focus on a great example of the last point above. We're also going to show some fun cat art. That's art about cats, not art by cats.

Back in 2013, a group of artists (Malaysians Tang Yeok Khang and Louise Low, and Thai Natthaton Muangkliang) came together in George Town, Malaysia to launch a project called 101 Lost Kittens. The purpose of the project was to raise awareness of the plight of stray and homeless animals in the city and to encourage people to adopt. The name came from the number of cats that were included in 12 murals painted across the historic part of the city. 

We didn't come across all of the murals, but we did discover most of them. The largest one is called Skippy Comes to Penang. Skippy was a stray cat with a deformed leg who was eventually rescued by the co-founder of an animal shelter on another Malaysian island, Langkawi.

Our favourite, was Cats and Humans Happily Living Together, shown at the top of this post and immediately below. The mural presents a Taoist procession (most of Penang's Chinese-majority population follows the Taoist religion) with cats taking the place of humans. The cats are carrying banners, lanterns and other religious paraphernalia.

In the picture below, the two cats bringing up the rear are carrying two tiny Taoist deities on a dais.

Another crowd-pleaser is The Real Bruce Lee Would Never do This. We've read in several places that this image of Lee karate-kicking a cat is supposed to discourage animal cruelty, but if there's a logic operating in there, we fail to see it.

No Animal Discrimination Please is a play on words. It sounds like it's encouraging people not to discriminate against animals, but what it's really promoting is equal rights between cats and dogs.

Perhaps the mural that best reflects Asian culture - and its obsession with money - is called Love Me Like a Fortune Cat. It features a normal cat surrounded by fortune cats, those kitschy porcelain dolls that you often see by the cash register in Japanese and Taiwanese restaurants. Shopkeepers believe that the cats bring good business.

I Can Help Catch Rats encourages homeowners to adopt cats as a means of reducing the rat population.

Whereas Please Care and Bathe Me reminds people that it's not enough to adopt a cat, you also have to look after it.

And let it not be said that the cats haven't done anything to help themselves. The evidence is right here in Cats March for Animal Awareness.

Finally, the trio of artists, who operate under the name Artists for  Stray (ASA) contributed a number of bonus murals to the project, including this one, perhaps heralding the arrival of the next 101 kittens?

You can understand that all the new cats in town might intimidate the local mouse and rat population. But the artists may have taken this into account by giving the rodents a hero of their own.