Ah, Penang. Known as the Pearl of Orient and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, Penang is famous for its variety in food, culture and… street art! Penang’s Armenian Street features gorgeous murals by Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, who gave Penang a new lease on life with his beautiful, funny and interesting murals since 2012. The murals have since then become a tourist attraction, with local and international tourists lining up to take pictures with the interactive paintings.
However, according to Malay Mail, the artist has stated that the murals have become too much of a crowd-puller. He’s even considered painting over his art “to put an end to that circus”.
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The fading kids on bike are still there, the people are still linning up for pictures, but today is not a regular day at Armenian Street. The steet has not been the same as it used to when I first moved there, quiet heritage street with few local residents offering antiques or 6RM haircut on a ground floor of their family home has been replace with souvenir shops, restaurants, and all kind of insta friendly quickly consumable concept stores to satisfy ever increasing traffic of holiday goers looking for 'authentic penang experiance'. One of those had been torn to ground this morning, just weeks since its grand opening. Not exactly sure of reasons but local goss says they had no proper building permits for such a construction and did not cooperate with council to address that. As much as I feel for the business owners who put their money and effort to open this shop I can't hide the joy of seeing council actually acting on its promises and enforcing the regulations that they established. It looks brutal but I don't think there is a polite way of demolishing a building. This part of Georgetown is a unesco haritage, and it has been threatened with the removal from unesco list due to failure to protect its culture, architecture and the community. Myself and many others blame my work for Armenian Street being a center of tourist route in Penang and honestly I've been contemplating of simply painting over it in hopes to put an end to that circus. But I think the time where it would make any difference has passed. You can barely see the artwork anymore but people are still lining up there. And if not kids on bicycle people will line up for something else. End of the day art does not issue construction permits, sell entire row of heritage houses to foreign investors, give out business licenses, docking permits to cruise boats or opens new flight routes. It's something to be strickly regulated especially in culturaly fragile places like Georgetown. We can only hope that what happen today will make business owners think twice before thay open another bubble tea shop or 3d art museum in this town. #penang #georgetown #gentrificationsucks
In his Instagram post, the artist expressed his regret, saying that the street was not the same as it used to be. He said that he and many others blamed his work for the heritage street becoming the centre of attention for tourists exploring Penang.
The artist recalled that Armenian Street was just a “quiet heritage street” with a few local residents offering antiques and cheap haircuts from the “ground floor of their family home”. He pointed out that the street is now filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. There are also all kinds of “insta friendly quickly consumable concept stores” for those who are looking for an “authentic Penang experience”.
“I think the time where it would make a difference has passed. You can barely see the artwork anymore but people are still lining up there. And if not kids on a bicycle, people will line up for something else.”
The artist also pointed out his distress over the fact that Penang may not be able to retain its UNESCO World Heritage status if it fails to protect its “culture, architecture, and community”.
“End of the day, art does not issue construction permits, sell entire row of heritage houses to foreign investors, give out business licenses, docking permits to cruise boats or opens new flight routes,” said the Children on Bicycle artist.
Zacharevic’s murals have brought lots of positive impact to Penang, be it in livening up the community, or the mural’s role in helping the nation’s tourism industry. We just hope that he knows everything that he contributed will always be appreciated by us Malaysians.
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