Ernest Zacharevic blames his art for turning once-quiet heritage street in Penang into ‘circus’

Tourists line up to take photos with the famous Little Children on a Bicycle mural by Ernest Zacharevic at Lorong Armenian in Georgetown. — Picture by Azrol Ali
Tourists line up to take photos with the famous Little Children on a Bicycle mural by Ernest Zacharevic at Lorong Armenian in Georgetown. — Picture by Azrol Ali

GEORGE TOWN, July 2 — Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s iconic Children on Bicycle mural along Armenian Street had brought so much changes to the street that the artist today commented in dismay over the gentrification his art had brought while contemplating painting it over. 

The artist, in his Instagram post of the faded mural and the crowds waiting to pose next to it, lamented that the street was not the same as it used to be when he first moved there.

“Myself and many others blame my work for Armenian Street being a centre 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,” he wrote in his long emotional post on the changes wrought on the street.

“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,” he said.

If not the Children on Bicycle mural, he said people will line up for something else. 

He noted that the quiet heritage street that used to have a few local residents selling antiques and RM6 haircuts on the ground floor of their family homes were replaced by souvenir shops, restaurants and “all kinds of insta-friendly quickly consumable concept stores” to satisfy the increasing number of tourist seeking the “authentic Penang experience”.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

 

One of these concept stores was recently torn down by the city council enforcement and he believed this must be due to the lack of a permit by the business owner.

“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,” he said.

He referred to one of his pictures showing the broken structures that was torn down and admitted that it looked “brutal but I don’t think there is a polite way of demolishing a building”.

He pointed out that Armenian Street is part of the Unesco World Heritage site of George Town and the city has been threatened with removal from the inscription if it fails to protect its culture, architecture and community.

“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,” he said.

He said these should be something to be strictly regulated especially in culturally fragile places like George Town.

“We can only hope that what happen today will make business owners think twice before they open another bubble tea shop or 3D art museum in this town,” he said.

Zacharevic shot to fame after he painted a series of wall murals around George Town in conjunction with George Town Festival 2012. 

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