31DAYS Shireen Zainudin-Lowe takes you on a whirlwind tour of the “little festival that could”.
Picture this. You’re five years old with a bohemian heritage dating well before the term ever became fashionable. International heavyweights with a string of luminous “award-winning” honorifics fly in to be part of your month-long festival of arts, culture, and heritage. You make The New York Times international art section this year. You are, the George Town Festival in Penang, now in the mind’s eye of global art players as the city that turns into a beating heart of dance, visual imagery, and avant-garde installation for the entire month of August, annually. The energy is palpable as the historical city and its denizens live and breathe culture: art cafés and speakeasy pop-ups join in the international line-up, including Flemish-Moroccan Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui,
by local artist Louis Gan whose powerful choreography of Shaolin monks in Sutra resulted in my personal highlight last year. Cherkaoui returned this year to dance with Paris-based kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa in Play. He was exquisite, liquid, a dancer of rare beauty. Roysten Abel, founder of the Indian Shakespeare Company was back, too, with his production of The Kitchen – a parable of life’s journey, told through a spectacularly lit pyramid of drummers on the mizhavu, a Keralan copper drum. In the foreground, a husband and wife stirred giant vats of Indian payasam. The pudding was offered to the audience to partake in as they left. Transcendental. Visceral. Delicious.
They return to a festival still in pre-school in the grown-up world of the Edinburgh or Adelaide or Budapest festivals. To perform alongside tiny exhibitions in crumbling pre-war spaces and pop-up workshops of witty regional craftmanship and culinary delight. Then there are photographic discourses on endangered wildlife, farming, the third gender, motherhood, war – the breadth of humanity, really. Next up, provocative installations by young emerging artists that work arm-in-arm with mystical traditional dances from a bygone era and youthful street dancers always pushing the next-big-thing.
The George Town Festival – birthed in celebration of its anointment by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. For a whole month, everyone in George Town is an artiste. Whether you’re performing, producing, spectating, purchasing, browsing, scratching some creative itch as cognoscenti or apprentice, resident or visitor, there’s something for everyone and
Have A Seat, art installation in the ‘Come Close’ exhibition at the George Town Festival, 2014
Children Playing Basketball,
Eat pau love art, at the Sin- Pen Colony