This creative arts workshop was first developed in 2001, and saw students introduced to the history of a Chinese clan complex. They study the geomancy and feng shui of a temple within the complex, and the granite carvings on the façade of the temple which depicted mythological tales. As a reflective exercise, they analysed and retold the stories portrayed in the carvings through drama, comic drawings, storytelling, and puppetry.

Introduction to granite carving through hands-on activities

Introduction to granite carving through hands-on activities

Scroll-box storytelling

Interpretation is based on the Archival Records of the project entitled “STORIES ON THE WALL – UNDERSTANDING GRANITE RELIEF CARVINGS”. 

Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)


1.1 Programme Name

Anak-Anak Kota Programme, Arts-ED Penang, 2001-2005

1.2 Project Title

Stories on the Wall – Understanding Granite Relief Carvings, 2002

1.3 Context and Objective

This creative arts workshop was designed at a critical time when the heritage buildings in George Town, Penang were under threat. In 2000, an old British rent control act was lifted in the city, allowing for building rents to be increased. In the hope of obtaining higher profit, many building owners evicted long-time tenants to renovate their properties. Organisations such as the Penang Heritage Trust campaigned to the public and government for greater awareness and protection of the city’s cultural heritage.  Arts-ED joined hands in the campaign by developing heritage education programmes for students, which included the study of George Town’s history, architecture, migrant settlers, and their culture and livelihoods.

1.4 Project Description

This 8-day workshop led by artist-facilitators Ang Bee Saik & Seetho Weng Yin was a repeat of a previous creative arts workshop developed in 2001 called ‘Understanding Granite Relief Carvings,’ which introduced young people to the history and function of a Chinese clan complex, and how the Chinese temple within the building reflected the feng shui, geomancy, and yin yang philosophies of Chinese culture. Participants studied the granite carvings on the façade of the temple, which depicted mythological and moral tales. As a reflective exercise they analysed the moral stories portrayed in the carvings and retold the stories through drama, comic drawings, storytelling, and puppetry.

1.5 Source Material

The source material explaining the architecture of a clan temple as well as the decorative granite carvings on its façade were derived from several sources, which included architects who were studying temple restoration, research by scholars on Chinese carvings, and also a minor publication by the clan association members who had compiled the 24 mythological stories associated with the temple carvings. A thesis titled Stone Carvings of Khoo Kongsi written by Ch’ng Sao Inn for topical study towards Bachelors of Arts Degree in Housing Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang was also used as a reference for the project.

Supporting Archival Materials:

‘Carps for Wicked Stepmother’ from ‘An Anthology of 24 Stories of Filial Piety’ compiled by Khoo Kay Hock and Rita Lim-Khoo

1.6 Producing Organisation

Arts-ED, Penang

1.7 Project Initiators

Janet Pillai

1.8 Project Instructor

Artist Facilitator: Ang Bee Saik & Seetho Weng Yin
Coordinator: Ho Sheau Fung

1.9 Participants

SMK Convent Green Lane 13-14 2
SMJK Union 14 3
SMK St Xavier 16 3

1.10 Events and Activities

27th  May – 3rd June 2002 (8 days) Khoo Kongsi George Town
1-15 July 2002 Syed Alatas Mansion George Town

1.11 Promotional Material/Catalogue/Programme


1.12 Final Script/Final Curriculum

Participants devised a script based on the story ‘Carps for Wicked Stepmother,’ which is one of the filial piety stories carved on the temple wall. The script was used for a shadow puppet performance which was performed at a final public exhibition.

Supporting Archival Material

Final script (Handwritten script written in Malay)

1.14 Previews and Reviews


1.15 Publications


1.16 Photographs

Soft copy of the photos are available in the hard disk of AEAM repository.

1.17 Final report/Evaluation



A video documenting the process of the childrens’ research, art-making process, and final creative output at the exhibition in the Syed Alatas building, Penang.

Title: Story on the Wall (2003)

Produced by: Arts-ED Heritage Education Program, Penang, Malaysia


Stories on the Wall – Understanding Granite Carvings

This programme was one of the creative arts workshops conducted by Arts-ED in 2001 and 2002. Around 15 participants, aged from 12 to 17 years, were recruited from various schools.


The historical town of George Town in Penang, where this programme was conducted, has some outstanding examples of heritage buildings that reflect the multicultural backgrounds of the migrant population who settled here. The architectural forms and decorative elements of Chinese temples and clan houses are particularly iconic, but their religious and philosophical meanings have been lost over time. 

The Khoo Kongsi Temple, George Town, Penang

 In an attempt to recover this lost meaning, a creative programme was devised to study the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi Temple, located within the Khoo Kongsi clan compound. The locale was selected because of the strong historical, artistic and cultural significance of the building to the ethnic Chinese community. It is also one of the best examples of Chinese temple architecture and craftsmanship in Southeast Asia.

Team and Resources
The core team for this programme comprised of an arts educator, a drama instructor, and a visual artist. All resource people were familiarised with the site and stone carvings before working together to design the curriculum. Accurate references on stone carving principles and ideas had to be sourced and their symbolic meaning understood carefully by the team. A second reference studied by the team was a narrative storybook containing ‘Stories of Filial Piety’ to ensure their familiarity with the scene from these stories, which was carved on the temple walls and would be studied by the young participants.  

Local Design and Motifs as a Cultural Resource
Built in 1906, the temple displays fine granite carving, woodcarving, fresco painting, and painting on wood. The three common styles of stone carving found are permeable carvings, 3-dimensional carvings, and relief carvings which display decorative patterns, Chinese script, figurative scenes, and symbolic icons.

Carved Chinese characters express wishes for longevity and good health, plant and animal icons symbolise values such as harmony and virtue, human figures in action tell stories of warriors and lords, and fishermen or children who had exceptional qualities or who showed exemplary behavior were carved into the walls. The cultural resourse selected was a set of granite panels carved with scenes from traditional moral stories.

Programme Goal
The programme aimed to enable children to appreciate and understand the cultural significance of iconic relief carvings on the temple walls, and the meanings they conveyed to users of the building. A secondary aim was to introduce the participants to how traditional stories were used as a vehicle to transmit cultural values.

Programme Structure
The creative arts workshop with young participants took place over 10 full days, with participants ranging from between 12 to 17 years old, and the workshop was facilitated by a visual artist and a dramatist.

i.          Visit to a Granite Carver

The students could not access the traditional craftsmen who carved the walls of the Khoo Kongsi Temple in Penang as they had returned to China upon completing the job many years ago. Thus, in order to understand the challenges of carving granite stone, the qualities of stone, the craft of stone carving, as well as the different styles of carving, participants visited an active tombstone-carver instead. 

Observing a tombstone carver

ii.          Site Visit to Temple

Participants were introduced to the history, architecture, and function of the larger clan complex. Next they were introduced to the various types of carvings found on the temple walls and pillars and were asked to locate carvings which depicted specific locales, animals, plants, human figures, and objects. They were then given exploratory activities of observing and making rubbings or sketches of the different motifs found on carved granite.

Introduction to granite carving through hands-on activities

iii.               Analysis and Interpretation of  Carvings

Participants then examined granite panels carved with scenes from traditional moral stories. Each carved panel depicted only one scene from a story. Participants were provided with a written version of 5 moral stories and were asked to match the scenes from the carved panels with the correct story.

Scenes from the moral stories and legends carved in relief on granite

A professional guide explained the historical and cultural context of the temple to participants and explained why the 5 traditional stories were themed on the moral value of filial piety; first generation migrant Chinese using the temple on a regular basis were constantly reminded of their filial duties when they saw the panels. This was because they were already familiar with the stories, and the panels acted as a catalyst to remind them of their filial duties. Participants then discussed the stories and their significance in contemporary society.

Participants were next asked to use their imagination to reconstruct all the scenes from any one story using either dramatic or comic storyboard. They were required to use the written narrative and the carved panels as a guide.

Comic illustrations created by participants

In producing their storyboard, participants analysed the plot, the characters, their actions and emotions, and the conflict situations they experienced, as well as the values that came into play as characters attempted to handle their situations of conflict. (Note: a summary of one of the moral stories is provided at the end of this case study).

iv.         Synthesis and Outreach

Participants brainstormed how to assemble and unify the various scenarios they had developed and creative ways in which they could communicate the stories to a community audience, emphasising particularly the morals contained within the stories. Several creative forms were selected and executed by different groups of participants:

●       Storytelling using a scroll box – Scenes from the moral story were illustrated on a scroll and the story was told orally as the scroll was rotated.

●       Puppetry – Participants carved two dimensional puppet characters and used shadow puppetry as a technique to tell the story.

●       Calendar – Scenes from the story were used to illustrate each month of the calendar.

●       Lampshade – Each scene was illustrated using ink on rice paper and the various ink painted scenes were assembled to create a lampshade which depicted a different scene on each panel.

Showcase performance for the community by participants using scroll-box storytelling and shadow puppetry

By interacting with traditional petty traders in their community to produce a signboard for small businesses, students learned about the cultural, aesthetic, technical, and functional aspects of this craft.

Conclusion: Reflections on the Case Study

The programme was designed with incentives, interactive activities, and imaginary possibilities to stimulate young people’s curiosity and interest in the traditional cultural artefact (granite carving). Multi-modal mediums for synthesis, e.g. craft, drawing, puppetry, and storytelling, allowed those with different capacities and intelligences to comprehend meaning in their own way.

Formal art education in schools and institutions tend to emphasise ‘technique’, often reproducing art forms dissociated from life. Widening the scope of arts education into the environment and community (beyond the limits of the classroom), helped young participant in this programme come closer to artistic forms associated with local life, and comprehend the meaning and function of traditional craft in relation to the local cultural context.

In an indirect manner, the programme highlighted cultural history, environment, language, and the arts related to the Chinese settlers. A similar programme extended to cover temples or shrines of other cultural groups could advance education for cultural understanding.

Summary of Programme Findings – Case Study 2

 The examination of a traditional art/craft within its historical context provides a path of discovery to the past, but the use of child-friendly, modern creative arts can help the new generation to comprehend artistic concepts and values from the past and carry them into the future.

Case Study 2 adapted from: Pillai, J. (2005). Stories on the Wall – Understanding Granite Carving. International Arts Education Symposium – Creative Partnerships: Theory and Practice in the Field of Arts Education (pp. 161-168). Seoul: Korea Arts and Culture Education Service.


Ang Bee Saik
Artist Facilitator
Project: Stories on the Wall, 2002