What to catch at the George Town Festival


  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 31 Jul 2018

Theatre show We Cannot Talk About It (Iran) makes its South-East Asian debut at GTF 2018. Photo: Ehsan Neghabat

The George Town Festival (GTF) returns in August with over 100 events, all set to transform Penang, as it has every year, into a global stage with input from local and international artistes.

The festival, presented by Joe Sidek Productions Sdn Bhd since 2010, is dedicated to George Town’s inauguration as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The ninth edition of the annual, month-long celebration of culture, heritage, art and community, will run from Aug 4 till Sept 2.

“It has been quite a journey with the festival over the past years, I have seen it grow within the community and gradually with the rest of the world. This has certainly been a labour of love as our team put together all of the shows, exhibitions and events with our audience in mind. We want everyone to have the best experience in George Town,” says festival director Joe Sidek.

It looks like the whole of Penang will be embracing the festival, with a diverse range of historical, hipster and offbeat venues, including Loft 29, Dewan Sri Penang, Hin Bus Depot, Art Lane (Lebuh Pantai), St George’s Church, a basketball court (Lebuh Acheh), Penang House of Music, E&O Hotel, The Whiteaways Arcade, Wisma Yeap Chor Ee and more.

This year, expect an even more vibrant programme showcasing dance, music and theatre performances, art and photography installations, workshops, talks, markets and a film festival. The programme will include ticketed as well as free-admission events.

GTF 2018 will kick off with Kelantan: A Living Heritage, its opening show that zooms in on this ancient and traditional stronghold of Malay culture.

Here are a few festival highlights:

Kelantan: A Living Heritage,  Dewan Sri Pinang, Aug 4-5, 8.30pm

The opening showcase of George Town Festival, co-directed by Joe Sidek and experimental musician/artist Kamal Sabran (Space Gambus Experiment), features an original work from dancer/choreographer Raziman Sarbini. The show blends contemporary and traditional, with a dance drama Mak Yong brought to life by Kelantanese dancer Zamzuriah Zahari. A wayang kulit segment will be presented by child prodigy puppeteer Kamarul Baihaqi. Dikir barat group Sunang Detaga Arjunasukma with Tukang Karut Muslih Sang Saka will soundtrack the show.

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The young Kamarul Baihaqi will be a tok dalang, a master puppeteer or storyteller, in the Kelantan production, which will feature a wayang kulit performance. Photo: Handout

12x12 Album Cover Design Exhibition By Tapa, Penang House Of Music, Aug 4-10, 11am-7pm

After launching an award-winning book and holding two successful exhibitions in the Klang Valley, veteran album sleeve artist and designer Mustaffa Ahmad Hidzir, aka Tapa, is hardly slowing down. He always wanted to "tour" with this music-centred exhibition, which features a handpicked list of his album sleeves from the 1970s to present day. The 12x12 Album Cover Design Exhibition is set to rock the Penang House Of Music. Festivalgoers and music fans can revisit Tapa's classic works, including album covers from Sudirman, Sheila Majid, Ramli Sarip, SM Salim, Man Bai, Ella, Search, Wings and many more. Tapa will be holding an artist talk at the venue on Aug 5 at 3pm.

George Town Festival
Tapa's renowned Man Bai album cover bridges the generational gap with newer fans appreciating his artwork, clearly inspired by their father (taking picture). Photo: Filepic

Isle Of Dreams (Taiwan), Dewan Sri Pinang, Aug 18-19, 8.30pm 

The world is coming to an end, thanks to mankind’s greed, desire, power and uneven distribution of resources. Who – or what – can save it? Perhaps only our conscience.

In this mythological musical theatre piece, puppets and masks merge with poetry and folklore to weave a tale of dire consequences, redemption and hope.

Featuring Nanguan and Beiguan music, it marks the second episode of the revolutionary mythological trilogy by Lee Yi-Hsiu, the playwright-director of theatre group La Cie MaxMind. Isle of Dreams was nominated for the 15th Taishin Arts Award and presented at the 2018 Taiwan International Festival of Arts.

We Cannot Talk About It (Iran), Loft 29, Aug 24-25, 8.30pm 

The family gathers around the dinner table, and no one talks about Mehrnaz who was raped and killed. They open their mouths, but it is not to speak.

Tehran’s The Hole In The Wall Theatre Group addresses themes of melancholy and silence in this South-East Asian premiere. We Cannot Talk About it is a dark and gripping theatrical performance directed by Jaber Ramezani, who also directed Slow Sound Of Snow stage at GTF 2015. Presented in Iranian with English surtitles. For audiences above 18.

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Theatre show We Cannot Talk About It (Iran) makes its South-East Asian debut at GTF 2018. Photo: Ehsan Neghabat

The Poverty Line (Singapore),

The Whiteaways Arcade, Aug 11 to Sept 2 (excluding Mondays), 11am to 6pm

What does poverty mean? What kind of food choices do you have if you are living below the poverty line? This photography exhibition presents the daily food choices a poor person will have in different countries, with food items shot on local newspapers purchased on the day of the shoot.

Since its inception in China in 2010, this visual project by duo Beijing-based economist/market researcher Lin Huiyi and Malaysian-born, Singapore-based photographer Stefan Chow, has expanded to 28 countries over six continents. The Poverty Line is a large typological photographic state­ment that addresses the complex issues of global poverty using economics, photography and food choices.

Chow will present a talk on his research and creative process on Aug 12, 3pm, at the exhibition venue.

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A work from photo exhibition The Poverty Line (Singapore). Photo: Chow and Lin

Cantamus Dresden: Highlights Of European Music (Germany), St George’s Church and The Star Pitt Street, Aug 4, 3.30pm and 6.30pm 

Founded in Dresden, Germany, by Martin Lehmann in 1995, the Kammerchor Cantamus Dresden will perform a selection of choir music highlights from the 15th to the 21st century.

This is an award-winning chamber choir that is often praised for its stylistic diversity, with many of its male voices drawing on their early education in the renowned Dresdener Kreuzchor. The Kammerchor Cantamus Dresden performs regularly at festivals.

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Highlights Of European Music by Cantamus Dresden (Germany). Photo: David Pinzer

A Family Memoir @ Khoo Kongsi (Malaysia), Jetty 35, Aug 9 to Sept 2, 11am to 6pm

This photographic essay of a family living in Khoo Kongsi, Cannon Square, a George Town World Heritage site, is made possible by the decades of painstaking documentation by Goh Kong Chuan, now 82.

He captures their lives, losses, laughter and special occasions in this epic family saga photography show spanning four generations.

It provides a window into how life was lived then, back in the good old days of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition is produced by Goh Hun Meng, and dedicated to his uncle/godfather Goh Kong Chuan. All proceeds will be directed to Kong Chuan, who suffers from dementia.

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A Family Memoir Khoo Kongsi (Malaysia) is a photographic essay of a family living in the Khoo Kongsi in Penang. Photo: Goh Kong Chuan

Blind (Brazil and Malaysia),

venue and time to be confirmed, Aug 31 and Sept 1

Covered in clay and blindfolded, these men and women roam the streets. Dressed in sharp business attires, they wander blind and lost, disrupting the city’s everyday flow. This is an open work that might raise more questions than it answers: what do we miss when we are blind, and what do we see clearer? In our capitalist world where money is king, have we become mindless beings just going through the motions? This urban performance will consist of Penang’s local people; you can be one of them – just go to the GTF website to apply.

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Blind (Brazil and Malaysia) is a participative performance that will require the public to walk blindfolded on the streets of Penang. Photo: Eduardo Bernadino


More info and festival programme: www.georgetownfestival.com.

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