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Preview: George Town Festival

The seventh multi-arts George Town Festival in Penang is a can’t-miss for travellers and art lovers alike

Written by
Josiah Ng

The George Town Festival is in full swing this August with a packed programme featuring some of the best international arts acts as well as the pride of Penang’s exploding local scene. The all-encompassing mega festival celebrates all creative forms, and continues to push the envelope as Penang quickly expands its global reach as one of the most vibrant art centres of the world.

Though the festival, now in its seventh run, is well under way, there’s still a great line-up of activities and month-long live exhibitions to catch on a quick getaway to Penang, and much of the city still to see during August.

A few of the ongoing exhibitions scattered around town include Strandbeest, intricate skeletal sculptures that move when powered with wind, the 3D-perspective wire artwork of Matthieu Robert-Ortis, whose sculptures take shape when viewed from specific angles, and of course, the stellar Penang street art, which captures intricate portraits of Penang life along city walls.

Dance lovers musn’t miss Canadian dance outfit Les 7 doigts de la main and their unique dance piece Triptyque, which sees its Asian premiere at George Town Festival (Aug 26-27), and Moved by Padi (Aug 27-28), a multi-arts piece by choreographer Aida Redza that reinvents rituals and ceremonies that centre around life in paddy fields – the performance is staged in an actual paddy field on the outskirts of George Town.

There’s no better backdrop for this great festival than George Town itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has recently blossomed into a vibrant centre of cultural preservation and innovation. The city itself is a picturesque snapshot of a time gone by, when Malaysia was steeped in Qing dynasty culture. The dilapidated, century-old houses of George Town’s once-wealthy are steadily being acquired by eager, passionate patrons, to be restored and repurposed in the utmost detail. Several of George Town’s hotels, like the Seven Terraces Hotel, and tourist spots like the Blue and Peranakan Mansion, are now designed to give visitors a stunning lens into George Town’s past. Penang’s many untouched venues, meanwhile, are home to many small shops and cafes that also are more than worth the visit.

And of course, the city’s major art venues are also mixed in with history. The Hin Bus Depot, an organic reimagining of an old bus company’s headquarters, and is home to three of the festival’s most impressive exhibitions. After passing through the faded gateway, visitors enter a wide open space peppered with odd steel structures and concrete excerpts that hint at the space’s former purpose. While you’re here, check out Chairs, an ongoing social experiment cum active installation of 100 chairs repainted by the public for participants to use as they please, or Another World In The Dark, which involves videos superimposed on the venue to evoke a surreal insight into deep-seated personal thoughts.

If you’re looking for a getaway to satisfy your wanderlust, curiosity for history and appreciation for exciting new art in all forms, there’s no better place to do so than George Town Festival this August.

For more information and a full list of events, check out

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