A picturesque time capsule of 16 distinct Straits shophouses – vessels of precious memories and cultures we share of Penang and Malacca.
Images of old shophouses often evoke nostalgia and memories of things that are connected to our past. They are a unique part of Malaysia’s cityscapes, “without parallel anywhere in East and South Asia.” These structures were in many ways the predecessors of urban public dwelling, with the five-foot ways fronting the entrance serving as communal and commercial spaces where cultural encounters and civic engagements were (and still are) enacted on a daily basis.
The repeal of the Rent Control Act, coupled with heedless development and a trivialisation of the past, has led to the shophouse’s rapid demise and the resultant loss of an important part of built and intangible heritage. When George Town and Malacca were accorded the UNESCO World Heritage Listing in July 2008, the cityscapes and lifestyles changed again. The buildings which Koh Shim Luen captured some 30 years ago were no longer recognizable, a fact she laments in her preface, “A few have been lovingly restored, some have been tarted up, and others recklessly defaced.”
Koh’s collection of 16 mixed-media sketches, compiled as a book of postcards entitled The Straits Shophouse: George Town & Malacca, is a timely reminder of the unique aesthetics and architectural leitmotifs of several shophouse façades found in these two historic cities. Koh, a Fine Arts alumni from USM has staged several solo exhibitions and her award-winning work has earned her an international reputation.
The Straits Shophouse: George Town & Malacca is now available at Areca Books. Come visit us at our new outlet on the ground floor of The Star Pitt Street at 15, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Mon – Sun, 9am – 6pm.
Penang Heritage Trust & Atelier Art Space, Petaling Jaya are co-organising a soloexhibition of Koh Shim Luen’s Malacca & George Town shophouse paintings from 7 to 31 Dec 2014 at the first floor exhibition space of the above venue. The launch is on Sunday, 7 Dec at 2pm. Both events are free and open to the public.