Meet Julia Volchkova, a 29-year-old Russian who has made a name for herself doing graffiti and street art in her country and Malaysia...
Chances are, you may have come across her several murals and even stopped to take a photo in front of one or two, which she has painted in Georgetown and Balik Pulau. Fascinated by the Penang's cultural diversity, Julia, however, has a particular affinity for Indian culture, an integral feature in her murals painted around the island.
Her murals showcase her remarkable talent at capturing human expression. Julia's murals in Penang, which are inspired by actual photographs, are ultra realistic, almost like a facsimile of the photographs on which they are based.
"The Child" at Prangin Canal mural is Julia's first-ever mural in Penang.
It depicts an Indonesian boy, named Agung, who appears to be biting on the collar of his t-shirt. Based on a photograph, Julia says it represents the story of the boy living along the road in huts made of polyethylene packages.
Julia's second painting in Penang is this large, vivid mural along Stewart Lane. It depicts an old Indian man rowing a boat.
Speaking to The Star back in November 2015, Julia said that she had many different ideas for the mural of the boatman, so she researched local history and even visited the Penang museum.
"The Indian community is an integral part of Penang. Up to that point, there weren't many murals featuring an Indian man, so I went with that. It also matched the area’s history," Julia said about the mural of "The Boatman" which took her 10 days to finish.
Speaking about Penang to The Star, Julia says it's more laidback and "people take the time to appreciate the beauty around them"
“I’m also amazed by the multiracial community here who live side by side in harmony,” she said through interpreter and friend Alla Mansour.
Born and raised in the city of Nizhnevartovsk, the centre of the West Siberian oil-producing region, she remembers being interested in art as young as six. Her supportive parents sent her to art school and she never looked back. Soon, she was getting invitations to paint from all over the world, including one from a businessman who was looking to invest in Penang.
“It was a dream come true as since young, I’ve wanted to live somewhere warm and sunny,” she said of her first visit in 2014 which lasted three months and resulted in her two prominent works here.
Julia's most stunning work, however, is her 3rd mural, gracing an old overgrown wall along the alley of Lumut Lane in George Town
It is 1.5 metres high of an old Indian woman doing the namaste, improvising on the existing wall facade of nature and stone, with the old woman's hair flowing naturally into tree roots ingrown into the wall.
According to The Star, it was the very feature that caught Julia's eye from the start.
The old Indian woman is a fortune teller lady that Julia came across in 'Little India' while she was out for a walk with her camera through the streets of George Town.
"She was consulting someone but allowed me to take some photographs of her with her hands clasped. That very moment I knew it was ideal for my next project," she said.
Then came the Russian painter's next mural of a wrinkled old fisherman mending nets. Painted in the centre of Balik Pulau on the sidewall of a pre-war shophouse, the 7-metre tall and 13-metre long mural has been drawing scores of people to the area.
Local art enthusiast Tan Chor Whye, who is a friend of Julia, while speaking to The Star back in December 2015, said, "her art-sense is always to paint the ordinary people she sees that depicts the essence of the community or geography of the area. I’m a Penangite but I had forgotten about our fishing villages. This mural will add to the beauty of this town while showing off Balik Pulau’s rustic character," he added
She followed the above mural up with her second mural in Balik Pulau, the subject of which was Malay traditional martial art of silat
Her latest and most recent work, titled 'The Hakka Dancing Girl' mural, on the exterior side wall of a pre-war house in Balik Pulau, depits 25-year-old Hakka dancer Pang Yi Chuen, doing a merry twirl
A testament to the flourishing local Hakka culture in the town, this mural was completed on 12 February 2016. While speaking about her latest mural, Julia said that in her research to find out more about Hakkas in Balik Pulau, she went into the Penang Hakka Association headquarters in Burma Road. There she was mesmerised by a photograph of Yi Chuen doing a traditional Hakka dance with her three sisters.
A gallery of all the murals Julia has painted in Penang so far...
On the other hand, check out how a village on the island of Djerba off the coast of Tunisia, was transformed into an open-air art museum when 150 street artists from 30 different countries were invited to decorate the area with stunning works of graffiti: