George Town on the island of Penang is a pretty famous destination for its street art. If you have even a passing interest in the stuff, you’ve probably seen images of the famous boy on the motorbike or the two children on a bicycle at some point on the internet.
This wasn’t always the case.
Street art in Malaysia was pretty much non-existent until 2012, when Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned by the municipal government to create six pieces around the old town for a cultural festival. Since then, they have become massive tourist attractions and we were surprised by the way they attract as much overt attention as, say, big landmarks in Europe or North America do.
Zacharevic’s pieces are certainly still charming, but we were shocked how much they appear to have been worn compared to photos we’d seen online from a few years ago. It’s not surprising, perhaps, since some of the most famous pieces attract such a crowd that it’s almost impossible to get a clear look at them. As a result, we found them pretty hard to enjoy properly, which was a shame.
In a somewhat less touristed location away from the old town, we discovered the Hin Bus Depot, a converted art space. Along with changing exhibitions of sculpture, paintings and photography by local and international artists, there is a permanent selection of murals on the crumbling walls of the structure by Zacharevic and a few other artists.
Also opened in 2012 for an exhibition called “Art is Rubbish/Rubbish is Art”, the Hin Bus Depot has quite a different vibe than the tourist hotspots of the murals in the old town. It’s a free space to visit with an unabashedly hipster café in two parts, one for drinks and cake, the other for meals. Walking around, it feels more like a somewhat dilapidated and very calm courtyard of a historic building that just happens to have some really cool art on its walls than a former work station for buses.
The original building itself is also interesting, since it was built in an art deco style in the 1910s, a somewhat rarer style of architecture that pops up occasionally in George Town between Victorian and Georgian houses. The original interior structure of the building has more or less become impossible to recognise, and the walls inside the former depot now serve as the canvases for the art.
We found the Hin Bus Depot to be one of the most interesting alternative places we went in George Town and would definitely recommend taking the time to include it in a visit there. We were there one morning in the middle of the week and found it wonderfully calm and empty, meaning we had time and space to take in the art on the walls, even when . And combining our time there with getting a bit of work done in Bricklin Café on site served as a lovely way to spend a morning.
Though we didn’t get to experience it ourselves, the pop-up market selling coffee, cakes and various kinds of food that happens every Sunday from 11am to 5pm sounds worth timing your visit with if you’d like a bit more of a vibrant atmosphere.
Have you been to Georgetown to see the street art? Did you manage to visit the Hin Bus Depot too?