Heart and Craft
Not only pleasing to the eye, batik, pewter and woodcarvings encapsulate Penang’s past and present.
From coconut scrapers to betel nut sets, traditional handicrafts depicting the land’s flora and fauna remains fundamental to Penang’s appeal.
While Penang’s lush foliage, diverse cuisine and colonial-style buildings are renowned, its history steeped in traditional art and crafts may be less apparent. The state’s dynamic art scene has garnered increasing international attention with events such as annual George Town Festival creating a buzz with high-profile exhibitions and visiting art personalities.
George Town, the oldest colonial city in Malaysia, was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008, and can be easily accessed from Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa, Penang. The resort offers a wealth of activities for the whole family, including a Par 3 Executive Golf Course and a 30-hectare sprawling landscaped garden with a holistic CHI, The Spa – a short drive from the cultural hub.
In addition to being voted Best Beach Resort and Best Service by Expatriate’s Lifestyle in 2011, Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa, Penang's unique art works deserves a dedicated tour. The resort’s distinctive Minangkabau architecture and collection of wooden and metal sculptures, traditional jewellery, batik print moulds and coral sculptures demonstrate the integral nature of art and tradition in Malay life. Categorised into three themes of land, sea and people, the works – valued at MYR3 million – comprise original antiques by regional craftsmen and artists.
From coconut scrapers to betel nut sets, traditional handicrafts depicting the land’s flora and fauna remains fundamental to Penang’s appeal. One of the best loved, the wax-resist dyeing technique batik, can be found throughout Malaysia’s east coast, featuring distinct patterns, colours, floral motifs and geometric spiral designs.
Usually made of cotton and increasingly of silk, Malay batik is either hand painted or block printed. The former involves the painstaking process of applying molten wax on to the material using a jhunting, a copper instrument with a container holding the liquid wax. Colours are then applied individually by brush.
The largest arts and crafts centre on the island, Yahong Art Gallery is home to Malaysia’s most celebrated batik artist, Chuah Thean Teng. His awe-inspiring paintings are housed in the gallery’s upper levels and there are also live demonstrations showcasing the time-honoured craft, in addition to the array of souvenirs, from sarongs to tablecloths, showcasing the intricate patterns.
Another craft deeply ingrained in Malaysian history is pewter making, a major pillar of the country’s economy as the world’s largest tin producer since the 1800s, supplying more than half of the world’s tin. Positioned as a strategic port for the tin belt spanning Phuket to Perak, Penang is the place for quality pewter.
Visitors keen to form, scrape and polish pewter dishes as keepsakes should visit the Royal Selangor visitor centre for insight into tin mining history. What began as a humble family business eventually evolved into the world’s largest pewter maker, capitalising on local skill by transforming tin, copper and antimony into artistic gifts and home ware.
A great way to experience Penang at its most charming is by perusing art and craft bazaars such as the Little Penang Street Market, which is held on the last Sunday of each month. Only top-notch offerings are showcased, as vendors are carefully screened before being permitted to trade. Woodcarvings in particular are a treasured Malay specialty, passed down through the generations.
Originally a fixture in the homes of sultans and Malay nobility, woodcarvings adorn beams, doorways and window shutters, often with flora and fauna motifs or Islamic art. The skill has become a quintessential part of the region’s heritage due to Penang’s expansive forest and thriving timber industry. Locals are passionate about keeping the art alive and encourage the younger generation to continue embracing it as part of daily life. While the progression of art can only be positive, preservation of its legacy reveals the city’s soul.
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keep up the ambience and extra friendliness in all your properties.