31DAYS Shireen Zainudin-Lowe takes you on a whirl­wind tour of the “lit­tle fes­ti­val that could”.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - THE CULTURE -

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

street art

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

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