Malaysia’s bustling capital cities are bringing vibrant colours and playful themes to their ally ways and building facades with the help of its thriving urban art scene.
Street art is not new in Malaysia. Graffiti was prominent on the streets of city centres in the 60s and 70s as a medium for protest and has been posing challenge to the conventional art world and property and ownership laws since.
Just a decade ago, graffiti was viewed as vandalism and artists faced hefty fines if they were caught, but now local authorities are fans of the colourful murals and even commission artists to jazz up urban spaces.
So long as the work is not racist, sexual or political, it is embraced.
In fact, before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourists were flocking to cities like Georgetown in Penang to see the art.
Here’s a rundown of the top three best destinations to check out Malaysia’s thriving street art scene:
The country’s capital is home to many of its famous street artists whose works often pay tribute to both recent and ancient history.
The heart of Kuala Lumpur’s street art scene is a hidden ally in Bukit Bintang known as Jalan Alor. Once a dark and dingy spot avoided by locals, Jalan Alor was the first place to be revamped by City Hall’s series of mural projects.
Another ally in KL that has become famous for its playful murals is Kwai Chai Hong, in Lorong Panggung. Here, you can scan QR codes accompanying the artworks to reveal the special backstories of the characters pictured.
Most of the works are interactive so it’s an Instagrammer’s dream.
Penang’s capital is a modern hub of quirky café culture, artsy vibes and stunning historical architecture.
At least 12,000 of the city’s buildings are recognised by UNESCO including colourful Chinese shop houses, jetties, churches, mosques, temples and British colonial buildings.
World-renowned Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic and Russian street artist Julia Volchkova have adorned Georgetown’s classic buildings, alongside a series of 50 iron caricatures dotted around the city depicting the history of its residents.
Famous for its delicious street food, the river city of Ipoh is also a favourite for Zacharevic who painted eight murals across the city in 2014. Only seven of his murals remain so it’s best to get in quick before the rest disappear.
Zacharevic’s works have since inspired many more international and local street artists to leave their mark on the buildings of Ipoh.