Updated: Dec 17, 2019
In 2012, the first official sets of street arts popped up in Georgetown, Penang. They are not graffiti but creatively-fun murals that are reflections of life in the old town. These are the masterpieces of Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian artist based in Penang. The murals draw crowds of locals and tourists to them and induce great vibrancy into the old Chinatown.
The success of Penang street arts triggered a chain reaction throughout Malaysia and street arts started flourishing in major towns and cities like Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca — but mainly restricted to tourist areas, particularly the historical towns. Singapore, a state that has zero tolerance for graffiti, also follows suit and approves projects to create street arts in preserved ethnic quarters and estates with pre-war structures.
If you are wondering what is the difference between "graffiti" and "street arts", the former is illegal both in Singapore and Malaysia while street arts are sanctioned. In other words, permissions from relevant authorities are required before work on any "street arts" can commence. Anyway, most people have difficulties understanding graffiti as they are usually words — and often regarded as vandalism — while street arts are normally pictures that can be easily understood.
Below are my collections of street arts from Singapore, to major towns and cities in Malaysia that use them to promote tourism, and finally to Penang island, the place that kick-started the whole street art frenzy in both countries. My list is not comprehensive and more will be added when I discover more artworks in my travels.
Follow me on my journey to hunt down the street arts in both Singapore and Malaysia.
If you like street arts, do bookmark this page!
This post will serve as a menu for all street art articles in Singapore and Malaysia.
Apart from Malaysia, Singapore also has quite a number of street arts in popular tourist areas — mainly in places with pre-war shop houses and ethnic quarters.
Find articles with artworks belonging to Yip Yew Chong.
Most of the murals in Muar are gigantic, occupying several floors of buildings in the town centre. Having lesser tourist attractions, the street arts is an avenue for travellers to explore Muar — apart from its popular food street.
The artworks in Malacca are more diversified, varying from wall paintings, to advertising through arts, to artworks that require interactions.
Being the capital city, areas with old buildings in Kuala Lumpur are limited but that doesn't stop several artworks from popping up in the Chinatown area.
While Penang started the street arts craze, Ipoh has more artworks than any other towns in Malaysia.
Taiping street arts are relatively more recent than the other towns with most artworks added in 2016. Apart from Taiping Lake Gardens, street art is another reason to visit the small town.
The place that started the street art frenzy in 2012! Most of the original artworks are still around today but will they be around forever? Check them put before they vanish.
There is no such things as a "complete guide" to street arts, and neither is this post. New artworks will be born every now and then and can be anywhere while existing ones can fade or be damaged over time.
Unless the original artists make efforts to maintain their works, there will be a limited lifespan tied to each artwork as the murals are always exposed to the sun, rains and humans.
I have collected photos of most, if not all, of the murals in the cities I visited. And it's not the end of my mural-hunting yet! There are more to uncover, especially in East Malaysia. One thing is undeniable — hunting for street arts allow us to literally walk through all the streets more thoroughly than going for single-spot attractions. You agree?
Hunt for special coffees too!