Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, whose murals in George Town, Penang became crowd-pullers, has lamented his role in the gentrification of the heritage area. He’s even considered painting over his art “to put an end to that circus.”
Zacharevic painted the iconic Children On Bicycle along Armenian Street as well as a series of other murals as part of the George Town Festival in 2012. His work often attracts long lines of visitors wanting to take pictures.
In a long Instagram post on Tuesday (Jul 2), the artist said he and many others blamed his work for the heritage street now becoming the centre of a tourist route in Penang. He commented that Armenian Street has not been the same since he first moved in, when it was just a “quiet heritage street” with few local residents offering antiques and cheap haircuts from the “ground floor of their family home.”
He pointed out that it’s now filled with souvenir shops and all kinds of “insta friendly quickly consumable stores” for holiday-goers who are looking for the “authentic Penang experience.”
Zacharevic added that although he has contemplated painting over his work, the time when it would have made a 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.”
The artist is also worried that George Town might lose its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which it gained in 2008, if it fails to “protect its culture, architecture and the community”. He hopes strict regulations will be enforced to make sure “culturally fragile” places survive.