Urban Exchange: Crossing Over 2014 is a brand new street art festival in George Town, Penang in Malaysia. In November they hosted 16 artists to paint walls throughout this city of two and a half million on the Strait of Malacca.
It is not a city that has hosted street art traditionally and one that frowns strongly on graffiti, but ever since Lithuanian Street Artist Ernest Zacharevic did some very successful installations here in 2012 which drew crowds and cameras, the citizenry and elected officials have become very hospitable to the idea -- and have even enacted a formalized process for approving public art.
Today we travel to Penang to see the brand new pieces for this first-year show, co-curated by Gabija Grusaite and Eeyan Chuah, who run Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, a creative space in the ruins of a bus depot that hosted a corollary gallery show. Alongside Berlin based Urban Nation's director and curator, Yasha Young, the two invited a mixture of local and international artists to complete murals and to host some community workshops.
"There's never a dull moment at Urban Nation's exchange program," says Young, "after a year in the planning we were excited to finally make the journey."
Among the various murals you'll see a selection of figurative, realistic, and illustration styles that carefully walk a community moderated fine line, hoping to bring locals to be more actively engaged in the program. As a novelty outlier, you'll also see Brooklyn's Mr. Toll installing his colorful hand formed clay sculptures in unusual spots if you keep your head up.
In an interview with Malay Mail Online, Ms. Grusaite says, "We want to create an artistic international cultural exchange so that local artists can learn from international artists who will be here for the project while the international artists will get exposure to the local culture and art scene."
As is the case more often, with Urban Exchange we are again seeing a new model of public art developing, at the forefront of which are artists who have laid their groundwork in graffiti rather than the university exclusively. We've been using a term we're calling the "New Muralism" to indicate the grassroots nature and populist generation of these works and we still think its definition is evolving.
Not quite community murals in the strictest sense, and not seeking the approval of gate-keeping institutions either, these artists are looking for and finding new ways to challenge themselves creatively in the public sphere while being responsive to needs of the public. Huh!
Included in the Urban Exchange project are Antanas Dubra (Lithuania), Bibichun (Malaysia), Don John (Denmark), Donald Abraham (Malaysia), Elle (United States), Ernest Zacharevic (Lithuania), Fauzan Faud (Malaysia), Karl Addison (Germany), Kenji Chai (Malaysia), Rone (Australia), Sk10 (Singapore), TankPetrol (United Kingdom), Black Fritilldea (Malaysia), 4Some (a crew from Kuala Lumpur consisting of Donald, Black, Fauzan and Jojo) and Mr Toll (New York).
Our heartfelt thank you to Henrik Haven, who took a trip from Copenhagen which took 31 hours (and four different flights) for sharing his excellent photographs here with BSA readers.
Collaboration between Ernest Zacharavic and Etoja. Urban Xchange: Crossing Over. Penang, Malaysia. (photo © Henrik Haven)
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