The artist behind Penang's famous murals thinks the heritage area has become a 'circus'

The artist behind Penang's famous murals thinks the heritage area has become a 'circus'

Ernest Zacharevic is worried George Town might lose its UNESCO World Heritage Site status and has contemplated painting over his iconic art to put an end to the crowds.

Penang Children on Bicycle mural
Ernest Zacharevic's iconic mural, Children On Bicycle. (Photo: Penang Global Tourism)

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.

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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

A post shared by Ernest Zacharevic (@ernestzacharevic) on

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.

Source: CNA/sr

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