Penang set to limit wall murals in heritage zone

Tourist taking turn to have their picture taken in front of one of many murals in the inner city of George town, Penang, December 5, 2013. — Picture by K.E. Ooi
Tourist taking turn to have their picture taken in front of one of many murals in the inner city of George town, Penang, December 5, 2013. — Picture by K.E. Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Jan 15 — Penang may soon impose limits to wall murals within the George Town World Heritage site to protect its coveted Unesco status.

The city, which has become known as a “city of wall murals”, has seen a sudden increase in the number of paintings and art installations in public areas in recent years, many of which were not approved by the local authorities.

Though the authorities have so far allowed these expressions of creativity, the George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI) has decided to set up a committee to assess the appropriateness of further murals within the heritage zone.

“The setting up of this committee is to ensure that premise owners within the heritage zone comply with existing regulations to apply for approval before putting up wall murals or art works in public areas,” said GTWHI general manager Lim Chooi Ping.

She added that, currently, many public wall murals and artwork have sprouted within the heritage zone, mostly inspired by Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic’s highly popular street art.

“Unfortunately, many of these ‘artists’ do not follow the local authorities’ guidelines and regulations such as needing to apply for approval before installing the artwork,” she said in a telephone interview with The Malay Mail Online.

Zacharevic’s wall art reached international acclaim after his wall mural series, which includes the iconic “laughing children on a bicycle”, was introduced as part of the George Town Festival 2012.

Now, aside from his evocative murals adding an arty feel to the inner city, many other aspiring artists and building owners have jumped on the bandwagon to paint their own wall murals, some to promote their business and others as a creative external décor.

Though GTWHI does not intend to remove the existing murals and artwork, including those without permits from the local authorities, it hoped the committee would be able to control the practice from getting out of hand.

“Our job is to protect our Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) and our heritage status so we need to ensure that these wall murals do not get out of hand,” she said.

Since this deals with art, Lim said the committee would be made up of experts in the art industry.

“They will evaluate the appropriateness of the proposed artwork, whether it is suitable for the heritage site or not, before allowing it to be put up,” she said.

The decision to set up the committee was just recently made so GTWHI has yet to appoint any committee members or finalise the full scope of the committee.

“We hope this committee will also be able to encourage premise owners and artists to comply with the local authorities’ criteria before putting up their art work,” she said.

She also urged all parties interested in putting up wall murals and art installations in public spaces within the heritage zone to first talk to GTWHI.

“Just come and talk to us first. We are not restricting all artwork but we want it all to be done in a proper manner in compliance with the council’s criteria as we too have to follow strict regulations by Unesco or we risk losing our heritage status,” she said.

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