Art hunting in Penang is almost like a walk through Malaysian history. At the same time, the newer galleries have created spaces for more exploratory and modern work. If you don’t have much time, concentrate on Lebuh Armenian. The rest of the galleries are scattered in different parts of town and does require some planning ahead.
Mutiara Art Gallery is right at the start of the art cortex of Armenian Street. Run by Kuoy Soo Kau, a full time artist and in his own words, a ‘reluctant gallery owner’, it is a beautiful and light filled space. The area downstairs tends to display newer artists or a current exhibition. Upstairs is literally a walk through of the who’s who of the Penang art world, with work dating back to the 1950s. If you visit one gallery in Penang, make it Mutiara. The beautiful pieces are a great insight into Malaysian history, especially post-independence.
Not really a gallery selling art, Batik Museum is on the same road and houses an extensive collection of batik paintings. Once upon a time, batik was a technique of using dye-resist process purely for decorative motifs and designs on fabric. Chuan Thean Teng is widely known as the artist who pioneered batik as a work of fine art in the 1950s. Since then, many other artists have continued to showcase the medium. New innovative techniques were evolved resulting in many rich and diversified styles of works being created. The Batik Museum has curated this journey beautifully, with some stunning work by various legends of Malaysian art. The museum also includes a small section of works by artists from Singapore, China, Indonesia and Thailand.
If you can’t make it to the main A2 in Pulau Tikus, the one on Armenian Street is small but equally interesting with a thoughtful collection not just of Malaysian artists but extends to South East Asia. Most of the art pieces in the gallery’s collection are contemporary modern art. The gallery provides professional knowledge in art appreciation to beginners. There are some workshops or ‘art-talks’ for those who are interested to know more about art and its history. Look out for information on their Facebook page.
When next in China House, whilst enjoying the delicious fare and cakes, do take sometime to go upstairs for a modern and eclectic collection of art. Again, largely focused on Malaysian artists, the collection changes quite often. The children enjoyed this gallery most as they had their fill of cakes and were able to spend a quiet few minutes here!
Yahong Gallery is located at scenic Batu Ferringhi, Penang. The gallery upstairs houses some of the early paintings by the famous Chuah Thean Teng, the father of Batik painting. I am personally a great fan of Chuah’s works (and so are private collectors and museums throughout the world!). His works have greatly influenced later generations of batik artists but sadly, over my budget. However, Chuah’s three sons have carried on his legacy of batik paintings and also use some of his techniques. This is definitely an opportunity to grab a batik art work at a more reasonable price. The gallery is divided into four areas: the Art Gallery, Handicrafts, Batik and Jewellery & Antiques centres.
I can’t say that I was very successful in my quest to go art hunting with the kids. I had to bribe them to go a few times with treats and had to put up with a million ‘are we done yet?’. I have since learnt more about how to introduce fine art to kids and tips on how to enjoy the experience together. Hopefully we will go better prepared next time!