Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic has left an indelible mark on George Town that goes beyond his iconic murals. His artworks on street corners and building façades have given a new dimension to the imagery of Penang, but there is another enduring legacy to his name that cannot be erased with a coat of paint.
Although Hin Bus Depot is now a trendy space that welcomes creative entrepreneurs and artists from around the world, it was a dilapidated hovel just six years ago. The depot, on what used to be known as Brick Kiln Road, housed the Hin buses that plied the Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang routes. When operator Hin Company was dissolved in early 2000, the garage was abandoned and almost two decades of neglect turned it into a huge dump — so much so that its new landlords bought the space for its size and location but were at a loss as to how it could be rejuvenated and used. It remained a health and safety hazard until Zacharevic approached the owners seeking venue suggestions for his first solo exhibition.
Tan Shih Thoe, managing director of Lum Choon & Co Sdn Bhd and part of the trio of families who invest in property on the side, showed the street artist a few possibilities from his portfolio but it was the Art Deco structure that caught his eye. Zacharevic’s insistence that his show was “rubbish” and befitting of the grimy site was the motivation the landlords needed to consider future plans for the lot. They did the bare minimum in repairs, merely enough to make it safe for temporary operation with the intention of possibly tearing it down after the event.
In January 2014, Art is Rubbish is Art was launched and hundreds of visitors turned up over the next month to view the exhibition, composed of discarded or disregarded junk that blended into the depot’s derelict condition. By the time the show ended, the tremendous reception Hin Bus Depot received as a venue had made a lasting impression on its owners.
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