Words and photos by Stephanie Kee
Forget about tacky ‘Made in China’ trinkets, key-chains and fridge magnets sold along touristy Armenian Street. It is made famous worldwide by the wall mural of a boy and his sister on a bicycle where many a tourist has taken a selfie with. If you are looking for a piece of the city’s colourful culture to bring home with you, head over to these locally-run art spaces by Penang creatives who are keeping the local arts scene alive.
Tucked in a row of shop houses in Little India, this quaint looking artist workspace seems like an oddity to be on the most traditional street in George Town. From humble beginnings as a performing artist, Foo May Lyn returned to Penang six and a half years ago after 25 years of living in London and Paris. “It was time to leave Europe, Asia is where I thought the pulse would be,” she reminisced.
The pulse is the excitement of Penang’s growing arts scene. As part of her journey of settling down in Penang, May Lyn searched high and low for a creative outlet. Inspired by the neoclassical architecture of heritage buildings in George Town, she took up a shop house without hesitation when a friend informed her of its availability. That is how Chop Kongsi came to be.
From crocheted jewellery, plastic dolls to hand-sewn pincushions, the workspace is filled with these extensions of her personality – whimsical, yet intriguing.
“I don’t claim to be an artist,” May Lyn exclaimed. However, seeing the products of her innate ability to deconstruct fabric and textiles into pieces of art, one would beg to differ.
Contact her at 82C, Lebuh Penang, George Town or email email@example.com
Not as well known, the first print centre in Peninsular Malaysia emerged in Penang in the early 19th century. Given its long history of association with publishing and printing, Gareth was surprised to find that the UNESCO World Heritage site did not have an independent bookshop.
In 2014, he took the opportunity to set up Gerakbudaya in the heart of the heritage enclave. “A great marker of the vitality of civil society is its production of the written word in its various forms,” Gareth Richards says. He takes pride in the bookshop’s ability to remain independent, not only in its financial footing but also in the selection of books that reflects the taste, preferences and aesthetics of those who run it.
Gerakbudaya not only offers well-curated books – some are rare and can’t be found anywhere else in the country – they also provide quality service and expertise in their chosen field. Gareth, a Singaporean whose mother is from Melaka, frequently works with the local arts community on various projects.
“Penang is unique for the many cross-fertilisations that happen in the community, whether in the variety of languages or different art forms,” he adds.
Contact him at 78, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town or call 04-2618117.