It is a sad day when we see two architectural treasures within the George Town World Heritage Site, Convent Light Street and Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, vandalised by Malaysians to make racial political statements.
Bringing gutter politics into the realm of cultural heritage demonstrates a total lack of respect and understanding of what the world community has acknowledged as worthy of conserving for all humanity.
Convent Light Street is the oldest girls’ school in the country. Founded in 1852, the school has struggled to collect money from its alumni and others to conduct their own restoration within the World Heritage Site.
Since the 1990s, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has undergone rigorous restoration, going against public opinion at a time when conservation was virtually unknown in Penang. It has set benchmark standards and helped conservation consciousness to become mainstream. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has just been recognised as one of the 10 greatest mansions in the world – how ironic that it should be defiled so callously.
The Unesco World Heritage listing for George Town is Malaysia’s pride and honour, putting us on the same level as historic marvels like Angkor Wat and Rome and the Imperial Palace of Beijing. There would be an international outcry if any of these world monuments were vandalised by ignorant cowards in the middle of the night.
Penang Heritage Trust strongly condemns these thuggish acts and urges the Malaysian government to take appropriate action. The culprits who defiled what we all treasure as part of our shared past should be brought to account for their actions.
The graffiti sprayed on Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion,Convent Light Street and Wisma MWE in the George Town World Heritage Site is an insult not only to the targeted person, but to all Malaysians and the international community.
It is also an illegal act violating the rights of the property owners. What would Malaysians think if heritage buildings around Dataran Merdeka or Jalan Sultan in Kuala Lumpur were spray painted with senseless racist sentiments? A violently-presented racist message that runs deeply contrary to the Malaysian government’s promotion of 1Malaysia can only scare off tourists and make Malaysians feel insecure.
The Malaysian government can certainly do more to protect heritage properties by sowing awareness and a deep respect for heritage, cultural diversity, and the values of our George Town and Melaka World Heritage Site.
Khoo Salma Nasution
Penang Heritage Trust