The island of Penang in Malaysia is famous, primarily, for two things – amazing street food and great street art. The Penang street art scene was very much put on the map by one man, Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic, whose interactive, 3d works (like the one below of the Boy on a Chair) have spawned a million selfies.
But, while Zacharevic’s work is amazing, it’s not the only great wall art in Penang. Here are some other, less well-known murals and other art, to hunt out on your trip.
Don’t worry, I’ll talk about the famous bits too.
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Where is the Street Art in Penang?
Most of the famous pieces are in Georgetown, particularly in the streets and alleyways of its old historical centre.
Some of it was painted as art for art’s sake – and sanctioned by the local authorities. Some Penang wall art is commissioned to promote the shops on which it’s drawn and other bits have just sprung up as the city’s reputation as street art hub as grown.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t find street art anywhere else in Georgetown, or Penang per se. In fact, most of the pieces of Georgetown street art I’m going to talk about first are less well known because they aren’t right in the centre. You can easily see everything in a couple of days of easy walking though.
If you do want to go further afield, Penang’s new centre of street art is the town of Balik Palau, a short bus ride away from Georgetown. If you really want pics no-one else has – go there.
My Favourite Pieces of Penang Wall Art
First, some housekeeping.
I don’t know the name of the artists for every piece of Penang art I love.
Where I could find out names I’ve credited them, but if there is something uncredited and you know who painted it (or, in the case of some of our non-murally wall art stuck it in place), please let me know it so I can them credit correctly for their fabulous work.
Oh, and I’m using the phrase wall art specifically as not everything I like is murals.
Also, the nature of street art is transient and while some of the wall art in Penang is sanctioned and so will stay put until they naturally fade away, you might find that other pieces have vanished when you get there from time, being painted over or because the building got knocked down – apologies if that happens, all locations were correct at the time I saw them.
So with that over with let’s crack on and show you some of the coolest, less well-known street art in Penang that you might want to see.
1. The Blue Woman
I think this was my favourite mural in Penang – it’s hidden in an alley behind a bar called Barfly (which also happens to be one of the cheapest places to drink btw) and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I just stumbled upon it.
It’s based on a famous 1985 National Geographic cover of an Afghani woman in refugee camp in Pakistan.
If you want to read the full story about her, then click here.
2. The Blue Man
Next to The Blue Woman is this face I call The Blue Man, that I also love.
There’s a few other cool pieces in the alley, and the one next to it, so take a few minutes to have a wander. It’s off Jalan Gurdwara, behind Barfly.
3. The Fake Adverts
This just looks like a peeling wall of ads, but look more closely and you’ll see, things aren’t as they might seem.
The ads aren’t real…. and they’re very clever – if not very PC! Look…
But I do have to admit they made me laugh.
I’m guessing loads of people probably walk past this seriously clever piece of Penang wall art every day – but now you know it’s there take some time to look more carefully.
You’ll find it in a little alley to the left of the steps that go across the road at 270 Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong. Look for the fairy lights – on google, it’s close to a bar called Song.
There are a few other cool sights in this area – one of Penang’s most famous Cendol stalls is here (cendol is a really yummy shaved ice dessert) which has its own mural. Expect to queue if you actually want to try the cendol!
There’s also a mural called Love on a Bicycle up here.
4. Big Mouth
This work is by Gabriel Pitcher, from London and you’ll find it around 62 Muntri Street.
I just love the way he has used the architecture as part of the picture. At first, I thought this was all that there was.
But then, you look to the side and….woah!
We found it on our way to a fun off-license come bar at the other end of Muntri Street called Antarabangsa Enterprise which is definitely worth a stop (check out my post on it and other fun things to do in Penang here).
If you walk down from Big Mouth to Antarabangsa, you’ll also go past some other murals – the Little Girl in Blue, the Fisherman (that’s the second on this post) and the White Tiger (on the side of the Tipsy Tiger hostel) – which are all on the lists of Penang’s best street art.
Closer to the mural itself (going west not east) you’ll also find the famous Trishaw Man mural – and don’t miss the Red Lantern food court which quickly turned into one of our favourite places to eat.
5. The Boy at Prangin Canal
This mural by Russian artist Julia Volchkova requires a walk down to the far end of Beach Street (where it meets Gat Jalan Prangin), a bit out of the central area – but it’s a nice walk and you’ll see some interesting old traditional shops on your way.
There’s normally some guys drying fish just by the mural who like a chat.
There’s a couple of other murals along the same wall and it’s all marked on google maps so you won’t get lost.
Volchovka is famous for painting people – if you like her style, you’ll find a full list of her murals in Penang here.
6. Bird Head
This piece is fabulous, but it really unnerves me – I also have no idea how to actually describe it!
And erm, I also don’t know where it is!
You see, I only switched on geotagging on my phone two days AFTER I took this photo – helpful eh – and I can’t find it on any image search!
So, brilliant – the one really cool Georgetown mural that you really haven’t seen before and I can’t tell you where it is….but I can give you a clue!
Before this, I’d been to the excellent Mee Goreng stall Hameed Pata Mee Song on Lebuh Light near Fort Cornwallis and five minutes after I took the pic of the art, I snapped a photo of a shop in Little India – so, it’s somewhere between the two.
My guess would be off Lebuh King – let’s think of it as a treasure hunt and let me know if you find it.
7. I Hate Street Art Photos
This made me laugh – particularly as it’s located on Lebuh Ah Quee right by one of the most photographed pieces of street art in Penang, Zacherevic’s Boy on Motorcycle (which, impatient selfie fans, is far less likely to have a queue than the ridiculously popular Children on a Bicycle).
You’d think the hashtags would give me a clue who painted it wouldn’t you – but, they throw up nothing….I have found an artist called Mr.Gore – but who knows (any clues anyone?)
There are loads of other pieces around this one – opposite it is another cool piece of Penang wall art called Burning which uses poles sticking out of the wall to represent cigarette ends, and aims to promote air pollution.
Two of Penang’s more famous murals are also by here – the subtle Boy with Pet Dinosaur is right next to the motorbike (to the left) and round the corner is the very, very faded Bruce Lee Wouldn’t Do This mural which has the martial arts legend kicking kitties!!!!
And wait, the street art in Penang just keeps on coming, as just around the corner from this you’ll find…
8. Happy Dog with Steak
Most guides to the best street art in a city are full of giant murals that take up entire walls (and there are plenty of those in Penang) – but as with most things in life, I tend to like quirkier pieces of street art – and this artist Kenji Chai, makes me smile.
Apparently, this mural was inspired by stray dogs (he actually calls it Feed the Stray, but the name above is how it’s marked on google maps) – and the dog theme that runs through his work is because he was born in the year of the dog.
If you see a mural of a coloured dog in Penang or Kuala Lumpur, chances are it’s also by him – he has a character called Chaigo who appears a lot in his work.
9. Marge Simpson Bollard
Okay so it’s not technically wall art, or a mural, it’s a bollard – but it’s super clever and so it deserves to be in here.
It’s very faded now and I nearly walked past it, but you’ll find this on Lorong Soo Hong, about halfway up.
It might surprise you to know that it’s also an Ernest Zacherevic – wow, that man was busy.
If you like cartoon-themed art there’s also some fun minion art dotted around the city and the bar The Pokok on Chulia Street also has a bit of a cartoon mural thing going on.
11. Brother and Sister on a Swing
You might well have seen this piece of – the interactive pieces of 3D Penang street art are all over Instagram so I’d be surprised if you hadn’t, but I’m including it in here because…
It’s not by Ernest Zacharevic.
I know there’s something he didn’t paint – and, considering the look of it, you’d think it would be – I did, but actually it’s by a local artist called Louis Gan Yee Loong (often just called Louis Gan).
Gan was born deaf and unable to speak after his mother caught German measles during pregnancy. He’s one of four brothers and his work pays tribute to his family by including a running theme of happy siblings in it.
Boy and Girl on a Swing can be found at 63 Gat Lebuh Chulia – Gan’s other work of children playing basketball is nearby at no 59 by the Container Hotel.
12. Scribbled Angel
My name – probably not theirs, but I love the way they have coloured the wings.
You’ll find it, and a few other cool murals, on Jalan Nagor, in an area called Nagore Square which is a bit of a hipster part of Penang with interesting ice cream shops and cupcake trucks dotted around the place.
There’s also a good, cheap Hawker Centre called the One Corner Cafe if you’re here at lunchtime – as I was.
13. The Hin Bus Depot
Most of the street art in Penang is concentrated around the centre of Georgetown and so, this art space a short walk away from the huge Komtar tower doesn’t get the attention it perhaps deserves.
This old art deco bus terminal isn’t just full of street art murals – including this piece by Ernest Zacharvevic – with added dancing babies which make me happy just looking at them – it’s also home to sculptures, cafes and shops.
Zacharevic has a history with this place as it was the sight of his first exhibition in Penang.
The building itself actually is an old bus depot and the art deco frontage is still in place.
Inside you’ll find all sorts of works of art from murals to sculptures and this piece called Pieces of You by Malaysian artist Louise Low that I liked (which I guess classes as wall art as they’re stuck to it!).
As well as the permanent art Hin Bus Depot host travelling exhibitions and, on Sunday it’s home to Hin Market which is a great place to stock up on arty trinkets or gifts. It’s open 11-5pm.
You’ll find Hin Bus Depot at 31A Jalan Gurdwara – it’s also just down the round from The Blue Lady.
14. Art Lane Penang
This place completely blew me away – it’s a thin alley located between Beach Street and Lebuh Victoria and it’s absolutely packed with murals – small and large.
It’s a real mix of different styles, different sizes and levels of talent – but the whole mix is an explosion of colour and imagination that you can’t miss.
I went back twice and I still haven’t found my favourite piece.
Different artists are either invited there to paint – or, if you want to make your own mark on the street art of Penang, you can actually approach them with an idea and they will give you the wall space and the paints to get creative.
The alley runs between Lebuh Victoria and Beach Street – with the easiest entrance to find by the Ice Cafe.
The gardens behind the nearby China House also have some interesting art in them.
15 The Rooster
It’s a cool mural, but I like this mostly because of the history behind it.
Think about it, you’ve been asked to paint a giant mural in Penang.
Your site is one of the narrowest streets in Georgetown and one that used to be used by the poultry trade and that locals call Chicken Alley – so, let’s think…what might you be inspired to paint?
Yep, I’d have gone straight for something of the clucky variety too.
You’ll find this mural by artist Mike Makatron on the corner of Lorong Che Em just past the junction of Beach Street.
While you’re here, make sure you stop off at the Wonderfood Museum which was one the most fun things I did when I was in Penang. Click here to see my full review and cool pictures of giant plastic food.
16. Woman with Monkey
You’ll find this in the Genius Parking lot at 136 Beach Street – if you want a clear shot of it you’ll have to go much earlier than I did.
After saying I tend to look smaller quirkier pieces I’m aware I’ve just added another massive great big one – but I like the colours! There’s needs to be more pastel pink used in street art!
17. The Devil’s Wings
Have you even been on Instagram if you don’t have a picture of you with wings?
This piece is for those who don’t want quite the normal shot!
It’s at 40 Lorong Stewart (also known as Muntri Street) if you fancy getting your evil on.
The Most Famous Penang Street Art
Okay, so I know I said I was going to focus on cool pieces of Penang art you might not have seen before but, if you’re going to see street art in Penang, chances are you want to know where to find the 3D street art of Ernest Zachareviv and while I’ve already mentioned a couple of his pieces in passing, here’s the quick guide to where you’ll find the most famous ones.
Boy On Motorbike is on the far east end of Lebuh Ah Quee and Boy with a Pet Dinosaur is next to it.
Kids on a Bicycle is on Armenian Street near the junction with Beach Street. Get here very early in the morning if you don’t want to queue. Oh, and check out the lampost opposite it, it’s pretty cool.
The boy on a chair is on Lebuh Cannon by Busy Bodhi coffee shop.
All The Cats
There’s a lot of cat-based pieces of street art in Penang. Many of them were part of a project called 101 Lost Kittens which aimed to bring awareness to the plight of stray cats on the island – and elsewhere.
You’ll find the locations of many of the cat paintings on the Penang street art map you can pick up from the tourist information board on Beach Street but a lot of them are in and around Armenian Street, which is the main street art road in Penang.
Here you’ll find murals like Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat and the huge Skippy Comes to Penang. Skippy was actually a rescue cat. She got adopted and moved to the nearby island of Langkawi.
As well as the small cat murals, you’ll also find little cats dotted around the place so keep your eyes peeled.
The Window Cat pictured here is right by the Boy in the Chair piece. Look for the small row of shops on the other side of the road and you’ll find it just tucked up the alley alongside the Ice Ball shop.
Can’t I Just Take a Penang Street Art Tour?
You’d think wouldn’t you – but, they’re harder to find than you might think!
I don’t know if it’s because most of the street art is concentrated in a small area and they don’t want crowds of people clogging the footpaths while they learn more about the art, or just because they think it’s easy to find anyway but I was looking for a tour and struck out.
However, there’s a free walking tour from the Tourist Information Centre on Beach Street that takes in some murals (you need to go in there to register) and you can also pick up a Georgetown street art map in there that highlights the main pieces.
If you do want a tour, while it’s not solely a street art tour, The Art and Cultural Tour sold on Klook takes in about 50 murals – and also takes you to some of Penang’s most interesting temples – including the big one, Kek Lok Si. Click here to see more about it or book a slot.
What to Read Next
Ipoh is a short boat and train ride from Penang and easy to fit in if you’re travelling between Penang and Kuala Lumpur – and it also has some amazing street art. See more in our guide to fun and unusual things to do in Ipoh
There’s not as much street art in Kuala Lumpur as you might think, but we’ve found some of the best pieces, and lots more cool things you’re going to want to eat, see or do in our guide to unusual things to do in KL.
Hotels Near Penang’s Street Art
If you’re coming to Penang to see the street art and looking for somewhere to stay in the middle of it all, you’re possibly going to want to locate yourself somewhere near Armenian Street.
A few suggestions would be
Click to see (the very pretty) pictures here (can you guess I like this one)
If you want something a bit more southeast Asian you might want to check out Spices. Some of the rooms have balconies which is a nice touch.
You can’t get much closer to the street art than having some attached to the building – and, the Container Hotel is home to one of the works by Louis Gan.
If you’re looking for a hostel in the area, the Olive Spring gets really good reviews – and has a gorgeous, stylish decor.
I love the way the beds are laid out – it seems so much more private than most of the hostels I’ve seen.
Where We Stayed
I stayed nowhere near any of this. I stayed at the top end of town at an amazing hotel called the Jawi Peranakan which had little mini villas to stay in (and no it wasn’t ridiculously expensive).
However, even though it wasn’t in the middle of the street art, I think it worked in my favour – you see it was pretty much the same walk to everything – the murals on Armenian street, those on Muntri Street, even the ones on Nagore Square and so I actually think I explored more because I wasn’t in the obvious area. It also has a pool.
Right – enough…
Frankly, this post could go on and on and on – there’s literally murals all over Georgetown – and other parts of Penang, but part of the fun of finding cool street art in Penang, or anywhere else in the world, is finding a piece you love that you haven’t seen a hundred times before on blogs or Instagram, a piece that’s yours and yours alone.
So, my advice – just walk. Walk the main streets, peek down alleys, look in archways and doorways, next to shops and behind them – and you never know what cool, quirky find you’ll see next.
And if you find that bird head one please tell me where it is. Don’t make me have to book a plane to go check.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.
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