6 works of art inspired by Penang

6 works of art inspired by Penang

Ernest Zacharevic may have been the artist to kickstart George Town’s street art boom, but he isn’t the only one who has found inspiration on these shores.

By Cole Yap

The famous Children on a Bicycle mural might have been Penang’s introduction to the contemporary street art scene in 2012, but many other artists have since made waves across their respective fields of art inspired by various parts of the Penang experience. From the bustling streets of George Town, to quiet housing estates, and even a look into the island’s history two centuries past, here are 6 artworks that celebrate Penang through the fresh eyes of someone who did not grow up here.

1. Kaki Lima by Goh Choon Ean, Charis Loke, and Tan Wah Chew

Inspired by George Town’s heritage walkways, Kaki Lima (pictured above) is a tabletop game that navigates players through a grid of centuries-old five-foot ways as pedestrians are given a list of tasks and exploration quest cards, winning victory points as they clear blocked paths and meet up with other players.

The heart of this light strategy game lies in the conversations it raises about community and accessibility through the inner city. Designed by Petaling Jaya native Goh Choon Ean, and illustrated by Ipoh-born Charis Loke, with art direction from Penangite Tan Wah Chew, the board game is produced by LUMA and Arts-ED Penang, with support from George Town World Heritage Incorporated.

Kaki Lima play-stations will pop-up in various locations in the last week of July during George Town Festival 2019. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to get the latest updates on play sessions and retail locations.

The game can be purchased from 20 July 2019 onwards at Arts-ED and LUMA.

2. By A String by Tim Craker

Melbourne-based Tim Craker is an installation artist, sculptor, and painter whose introduction to Penang came during his time at the Hotel Penaga art residency in 2006, and subsequent move to the island in 2012. Most notably, his solo exhibition By A String (at Run Amok Gallery) featured common domestic plasticware and found objects strung up as hanging sculptures inspired by the beauty and symmetry of flower garlands, lanterns, ketupat, and decorative ornaments.

Playing on a sense of memory and nostalgia, the sculptures renew a sense of excitement felt when experiencing cultural and religious celebrations for the first time, and question our use of spatial contact as they hang from normally unused ceilings and doorposts, “disrupting the void” in our perception of space.

See more of By A String at Run Amok’s website.

Find more of Tim’s work at www.timcraker.com

3. George Town Diary by Peter Bialobrzeski

As part of OBSCURA Festival of Photography’s 2018 Artist In Residence programme, German photographer Peter Bialobrzeski captured seemingly ordinary street scenes in his aptly titled George Town Diary, showcasing photographs of the city’s building developments co-existing and contrasting with heritage facades and age-old practices.

The city is documented in its state of flux as new overtakes the old, with its inhabitants caught in between. This theme features prominently in his larger body of work across multiple cities and within it, local audiences are provided with the opportunity to refresh their perspectives on everyday scenes that are often taken for granted.

The exhibition and book release of George Town Diary is scheduled for OBSCURA Festival 2020.

See more of Peter’s city diaries and other photographs at www.bialobrzeski.de

4. Fragrance (Wangian) by Noor Rizuwan
Photo by Goh Hun Meng

Closer to home, Johorean playwright Noor Rizuwan’s monologue Fragrance (Wangian) tells a ghostly true story of the murder case and haunting of a woman named Salbiah inside a quiet northern suburban neighbourhood, the Vale of Tempe, known today as Lembah Permai. 

First produced under an incubator programme by RekaArt Space at Sinkeh, the story is set in the 1980s, diving into the grisly true details that gave birth to the urban legends surrounding the event today. But beyond just a horror-crime drama is a broader story exploring the misuse of power, domestic violence, and women’s issues.

Actress Darynn Wee plays all four of the show’s main characters in a Northern Malay accent (with English subtitles) during the hour-long show, which is part of a six-part series of Malaysian urban legends and supernatural tales. 

Find out more about the making of Fragrance (Wangian) in this interview of Noor Rizuwan and Darynn Wee. Follow Noor Rizuwan on Facebook and on Instagram.

5. The Wondering Heart by ERYN

Visual artist ERYN grew up in Brunei and is a recipient of the Gold Award in the Emerging Artist category of the UOB Painting of the Year award 2015 for her piece The Wondering Heart.

Painted line drawings of reimagined palm plantations and mangrove forests are painstakingly cut out on paper and layered together with anthropomorphic creatures in a fantastical scene inspired by highway travels between Penang and Kuala Lumpur, that were reminiscent of her childhood visits to Malaysia traversing the peninsula between her parents’ hometowns in Kedah and Johor.

The Wondering Heart is also a personal portrait of the artist finding belonging early in her career when Malaysia was still foreign and new to her, as she stretched to balance community and opportunity across the art scenes of two cities.

Find ERYN’s work at www.erynthology.com and follow her behind the scenes on Facebook and Instagram.

6. Penang: The Fourth Presidency of India 1803-1830 by Marcus Langdon

British-born Australian Marcus Langdon is a well-known authority on Penang’s early history under the East India Company and has authored several books on the topic. In particular, his ongoing three-volume series titled Penang: The Fourth Presidency of India 1803-1830 outlines the importance that Penang played in the early 19th-century international trade network.

Discover our island’s incredible history through the lens of a bygone time with maps, illustrations, and paintings that accompany each volume.

Volume One and Volume Two are both published and available at Areca Books.

All photos courtesy of artists, venues, or organisers. Cover photo by Goh Choon Ean.

Cole Yap is a photographer, writer, and occasional ceramic artist with a background in fine art sculpture, and an endless curiosity for all things creative across design, art, science, and business.