Start your Malaysian holiday in the capital city of George Town with two key stops in one: the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery. You’ll not only gain an understanding of the history of the island but also get an overview of its most important artworks in this former schoolhouse that dates back to the early 1800s.
This South-East Asian island was onto a great idea when it opened the combination Penang State Museum and Art Gallery. The building has always had its roots in education, ever since the East India Company donated it to the Penang Free School in the early 1800s. The school used the site from 1821 until 1927, when the Hutchings School took it over until 1960. Former student and later first prime minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman then saved the dignified building from demolition, suggesting it instead become a museum. Today, the old white schoolhouse has grown into a vibrant cultural centre in George Town.
Here, you can pore over the multiethnic history of Penang, which includes British, Malay, Chinese and Indian populations. Start in the State Museum (entry costs less than $1), where you’ll see the artefact collection, including ancient carpentry tools, vessels and weapons. And the street scenes and old-transportation collections provide fascinating insights into the development of this city over time.
Once you’ve boned up on your Penang history, step into the art gallery for a more modern experience – modern and contemporary art, that is. It’s free for all visitors. In one section, you’ll find works by local artists. Participants in the annual Penang Art Open Competition also display their work here. Another section is home to the permanent collection of paintings, watercolours, sculptures, video, photography and more that span from 1965 to present day. The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery is open Saturdays through Thursdays from 9am to 5pm.