No Sticker Lady Here: Malaysia Welcomes a New Banksy

By Trinna Leong
Wall Street Journal

When a six-meter-tall graffiti image of an old man’s face appeared on the wall outside an Armenian Street corner shop in George Town, Penang, it had local residents buzzing. Instead of demanding it be removed, however, they asked for more, and starting from today, that’s exactly what they’re getting as part of the annual George Town Festival.

The man behind the image is Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, 25, who first visited Penang in 2009 after graduating from London’s Middlesex University. Intrigued by Malaysia, he moved there last year and began depicting its people and culture, mainly on canvas and paper. He also opened an art center for children in one of George Town’s old colonial streets.

That might explain why kids feature in his creations for the festival. “When I was looking for ideas, I noticed that paintings with children look livelier,” he said. “Adults tend to be more shy,” he added, noting that he works from his own photographs.

Close to a temple on Muntri Street, where you can still find George Town’s 19th-century shophouses, it’s hard to miss Mr. Zacharevic’s huge, playful painting of one of his eight-year-old students dressed in a Wushu outfit. At ground level on Armenian Street, two life-size siblings ride on the back of a mountain bike (only the bicycle, propped against the wall, is real).

Ernest Zacharevic
This work by the artist features a real bicycle.

To date, the artist has completed three of the six works commissioned by the festival and is slated to finish the remainder before the event ends next month. Meanwhile, he has been flooded with new requests. “People just started coming to my office offering their wall[s],” he said.

Mr. Zacharevic isn’t the first person in the city to experiment with street art. In 2010, the government launched a contest that called for creatives to brand the city with their designs in an effort to promote George Town’s status as a Unesco World Heritage site. The winning entry, from Kuala Lumpur firm Sculpture At Work, installed over 200 caricature sculptures across the city’s walls, pavements and phone booths, including a two-dimensional tribute to Penang native son Jimmy Choo, the shoe designer.

It’s no surprise, then, that Mr. Zacharevic’s work has been met with open arms by George Town residents and authorities, though street painting in tropical Malaysia has proved to be a challenge. His Armenian Street image of the old man is already fading due to the heat, rain and humidity, prompting him to experiment with different paints to make his artworks more durable.

As for future projects, the artist remains open-minded. “A Chinese temple wanted me to paint on a building that is in a remote, isolated island, where no one even goes,” he said. “But then I thought that this could be an interesting project, so why not?”

George Town Festival runs through July 15.

Street Arts Paints Penang

  1. #1 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 12:52 pm

    Way to go penang. Be fun. Be different. Be bold.

    Errr, mr artist sir, can we hv a gigantic wall painting of a naked emperor without his precious pair of something?

  2. #2 by monsterball on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 2:32 pm

    Creative and lively paintings.
    Perhaps few Malaysians artists can learn something from him and vice versa.
    It reminds me of the same idea done in Malacca of another kampong.
    It’s a tourist attraction and hope that in Penang will be too.

  3. #3 by joehancl on Monday, 18 June 2012 - 10:45 pm

    God bless Penang. Penang people pray to God in all its colours…Buddhists, Islamics, Christians, Taoists, Sikhs and many others. Penang will prosper.

  4. #4 by waterfrontcoolie on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 - 7:28 am


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