Penang Street Mural Artist Blames Himself for the Commercialization of the Heritage Streets

penang street mural artist blames himself for the commercialization of the heritage streetsMain image via Malay Mail

If you’ve ever been to Penang, you’ve probably walked past or taken pictures of the many street murals around Georgetown such as the “Little Children on A Bicycle” at Armenian Street and "Boy on Chair" at Cannon Street. 

London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic was first commissioned to bring life to the streets of Georgetown in 2012, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site hasn’t been the same ever since. These artworks have since risen in popularity and became tourist attractions in their own right, drawing in waves of tourists who eagerly wait their turn for a photo opportunity.

With the murals now worn and faded, the artist took to Instagram to lament the influx of tourists that has disrupted the peace of the heritage town and morphed it into a commercialized space that has lost its original essence.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

The street has not been the same as it used to when I first moved there, [a] quiet heritage street with few local residents offering antiques or RM6 haircuts on a ground floor of their family home has been replace[d] with souvenir shops, restaurants, and all kind of insta friendly quickly consumable concept stores to satisfy ever increasing traffic of holiday goers looking for [an] 'authentic Penang experience'.

He goes on to share how he can’t hide his sense of joy when one of such shops was shut down within weeks of opening due to a lack of proper permit, because he fears that Georgetown might be losing its authentic culture and identity. Ultimately, he blames himself for creating an icon that drew so many to flock to these historic streets.

I've been contemplating of simply painting over it in hopes to put an end to that circus.

Many shared his sentiments in the comments while sharing their memories with the murals, citing it as a shame that the spirit of the art has been commodified by those businesses. 

So, what do you think? Should the artworks bear the blame?