If there’s one thing that will lure me to a city, it’s the promise of exceptional street art. We had pinpointed Ipoh as a potential place to break our journey between Singapore and Hat Yai and as I researched what to see in Ipoh, street art kept coming up. And so, Ipoh was firmly on the agenda.
By the time we reached Ipoh, it felt like everywhere we’d stopped in Malaysia had been a revelation when it came to street art.
It really shouldn’t have been. After all, George Town in Penang is known as the street art capital of Asia. And witnessing what street art has done for Penang’s tourism, it’s not surprising that other towns and cities across the country want in on the action. Or the attraction. Street art tourism is on the up.
In 2012, Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic, then largely unknown, changed the face of George Town. Back then, it was a town with no public art or graffiti. Today street art is almost as synonymous with Penang as street food is. Zacharevic’s murals are so much a part of George Town that in late 2016 he secretly returned to Penang to touch up his fading pieces of art.
Ernest Zacharevic Street Art in Ipoh
In 2014, Ernest Zacharevic headed to Ipoh, the state capital of Perak, to weave the same magic; he took a month to paint eight murals in Ipoh Old Town, in a collaboration with local chain Old Town Coffee (hence the reason many of the murals have coffee-based themes). Eager to track down his paintings, one of the first things we did when we arrived in Ipoh was visit the Tourist Information Centre and pick up their leaflet: Ipoh Mural Art Trail. The map marked nine locations along with GPS coordinates.
Numbers one and two on the map are adjacent to the Information Centre and, partly due to their scale, were easy to spot. Whilst the map wasn’t needed for finding and identifying these murals, named ‘Paper Plane’ and ‘Old Uncle Drinking Coffee’, things got a little trickier from that point. The Mural Art Trail leaflet also contains photos with names of seven pieces of street art (versus the nine on the map) but it doesn’t link them to the numbered coordinates or places on the map. This doesn’t make it very user-friendly, but luckily Ipoh Old Town covers a small area and we were able to find six of Zacharevic’s pieces by just wandering around. Two of them were slightly more elusive, one for reasons that I’ll explain later. After we’d left Ipoh, I found this article from the Tourism Board of Ipoh which helps a bit more in matching names and places, but it’s certainly not as useful as it could be. I’ve therefore created my own Google map which you’ll find further down the post.
As you can see, many of Ernest Zacharevic’s Ipoh works have become a bit weathered over the years. Maybe he’ll be back to Ipoh too, one day…
Old Uncle Drinking Coffee
It’s typical in Malaysia, and across South East Asia, that when you buy an iced coffee from a street vendor, it comes in a small plastic bag, tied at the neck, with a straw poking out, like the ones depicted here.
Bag Of Coffee
This is by far the smallest mural in Ipoh and one that initially we couldn’t locate. But one evening, I spotted it quite by chance, directly opposite our sidewalk table, at a restaurant where we were enjoying roasted duck and boiled rice, a speciality of Ipoh.
Trishaw, like many of his better-known murals in Penang, is 3D interactive and has a rickshaw frame mounted to the wall. Depicting a hard-working Ipoh local, it’s also known as ‘Street Art is Rubbish’.
Ipoh used to be an important tin mining town and this piece is a nod to that time in history.
Having tracked down seven of the eight pieces of street art, this one eluded us for some time. Until I worked out we were in exactly the right place, only to realise that the mural had been painted over. I later found out that we’d missed it by only a few weeks. http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/street-artist-accepts-removal-of-mural-in-ipoh
All that was left to identify the site of the mural was a few small holes in the wall where the metal birdcage had been attached, and the ventilation openings on the side of the building which obviously had been there all along, but which had been incorporated into the mural. The caged birds are already quite faded in this photo.
Other Street Art in Ipoh Old Town
Since Ernest’s visit, Ipoh has well and truly caught the street art bug and we found plenty of street art by other artists, many of them local to Ipoh, all over the old town. Here are some of the best pieces…
Wisma Chye Hin Indoor Murals
Seemingly not content with its huge amount of outdoor street art, Ipoh has a growing number of indoor street art galleries. In some cases, it appeared to be a clever attempt at attracting tourists inside what is effectively a coffee shop selling souvenirs, but not so with Wisma Chye Hin. Promoting itself as Ipoh’s first and largest indoor mural arts experience, the building’s internal staircase is covered in colourful art over four floors. At the time of our visit, the only obvious tenant of this newly renovated building was the Concubine Lane Museum but the plan is to fill the space with shops, restaurants and cafes. Wisma Chye Hin is definitely worth a look…
Mural Arts Lane @ Jalan Masjid
I was more than satisfied with the street art we’d seen in Ipoh’s old town but then we crossed the bridge to the new town to visit Panglima Kinta mosque. As we turned down the lane that led to the mosque, we found ourselves surrounded by wall to wall street art! Mark was just ahead of me so I couldn’t see his eyeballs roll.
Many of the murals here were painted by Eric Lai, a local art teacher who initiated the project after being inspired by Ernest Zacharevic’s art.
Mural Arts Lane is the alleyway between Jalan Masjid and Jalan Sultan Iskandar (formerly Hugh Low Street), and I’ve marked it on the map below. Remember not to get so distracted by the street art that you forget to visit the mosque!
I’m reluctant to admit it, but there was almost too much street art to photograph on this small alleyway. Here’s a fraction of it…