Pakistani Truck Art
Painting a truck, rickshaw or bus can have many purposes. Some do it to attract customers, while others do it to keep up with the khans.
One driver from Murree, who earns up to Rs. 15, 000 a month, has spent Rs. 30, 000 to get his truck repainted. Two years ago, he and his brother spent about Rs. 200,000 to have the stem-to-stern bodywork done, which included hardwood doors, steel-covered wooden walls around the truck bed and chains around the edges. He considers this to be a legitimate cost of doing business.
The drivers believe that these expenses are well worth it. They say that no self-respecting merchant would trust his goods in the bed of a shabby looking truck. Customers reason, that if a driver can’t afford to be garish, maybe his is not a very good driver. One driver says that the police also look more sternly at a poorly decorated truck. “If I could not make it colourful,” he says, “I would be stopped by the police.” According to him if the truck is not in good condition, the police will not like his truck.
But for one truck-detailing shop in Rawalpindi, its the makings of a very good business. He employs twenty two craftsmen. He states that some decoration serves a purpose beyond mere aesthetics. For instance, he relates, that the massive jutting structure above the cab, may slow down the truck at high speeds. It also helps to hide excess goods from the prying eyes of police.
Truck art has become an important branch of Pakistani folk arts. The lorries are decorated, painted and repaired in various workshops around the country. One of the collection of workshops where Pakistani trucks are constructed, repaired and decorated, is located at the busy link road between Rawalpindi’s bus terminal and Grand Truck Road which connects Peshawar via Pindi with Lahore. At this workshop, mechanics deal with the machines, welders repair bodyworks and carpenters, commonly called “bodymakers”, construct the wooden bodies of the trucks that are finally painted and decorated with images, little mirrors, ornamental fittings, glittering reflectors and sounding chains. These old trucks are repaired again and again. Drivers and transport agencies put all their pride into the decoration of their lorries and trucks. There are two types of paintings on these trucks: the “simple paintings” which still leaves some space between the images and the second is “disco painting” in which every square inch is covered with pictures and ornaments. On the exhibit are portraits of national heroes, imaginary landscapes with wood covered hills and quiet lakes and beautiful women. The sides of the cabin are often covered with a kind of mosaic of metal reliefs intersected with small painted ornaments, and sometimes the doors are made of finely carved wood. Truck sides are the most important exhibition areas for paintings.
Side wooden panels are divided into small segments by iron struts to frame a number of different pictures. These pictures feature landscapes, women faces, birds, tigers and flowers.On the back of the truck there is one large motif: a portrait, a mythical figure, a building, and an animal. These are painted onseparate wooden planks that are taken off when loading or unloading the truck. Only when the planks are inserted in the correct order, do the pictures appear proper. A simple painting is ready in two days while the disco painting takes longer time. The painters of these are masters of their art and do not need models for painting. They are given a free hand in what they do, and the paintings are generally accepted by the owners. Nobody raises any objection to paintings of beautiful roses and birds or to a portrait of cricket star Imran Khan.
Not only new trucks are painted but many trucks that have lost their brilliance are painted anew also. Moreover, the truck is also painted if there is a change of hands and the new owner wants to see his name on the sides of the truck. After the painter-artists are done, the decorators take over with their accessories like messages added which consist of little badges with various slogans.