Pakistan’s Indigenous Art of Truck Painting

Posted on June 18, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Art & Literature, Culture & Heritage
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Owais Mughal

Just like the Billboard painting performed in Pakistan, there is another indigenous form of art performed in Pakistan and it is the Truck Painting. With its all colorful floral patterns, depiction of human heroes with creative aspect ratios, calligraphy of poetic verses and driver’s words of wisdom, this form of art is truly a part of Pakistani transport tradition.

Pakistan Truck Art

I recently came across Abro’s photo collection of Pakistan’s truck painting and that provided me the necessary impetus behind this post. These photos were taken by Abro as part of a book called Food Path- Cuisine Along The Grand Trunk Road From Kabul To Kolkata published by Roli Books India and Lustre Press

This art is so Pakistani, that the freight trucks which are built by Ford, General Motors, Hino Pak etc in beautiful aerodynamic shapes are first retro-fitted with very Pakistani stlye bodies and a special ‘viewing deck’ at the top of Driver’s cab. The ‘viewing deck’ is a very multipurpose extra space. It is used by ‘cleaners’ to sleep at night and also to load extra luggage when needed.

Following Photo is the redesign of Ford Motor Company’s Logo by a Truck Painter in Pakistan

Pakistan Truck Art

Following mosaic is again a colorfol montage of Abro‘s work on capturing Pakistani truck art. We will blow some of these photos below to see the details.

Pakistan Truck Art

The Regional Flavor of Truck Painting

These truck bodies are then immaculately painted by the street artists who can be found at Truck stands all across the country. e.g. Hawkes Bay/Mauripur Road Road Karachi, Pir Wadhai Rawalpindi, Badami Bagh Lahore, Sariab Road Quetta etc. These hired artists then paint the whole truck in brightly colored patterns. It is said that everty city’s artists have perfected their art in their own signature way. Trucks decorated in Quetta and Peshawar get lots of wood trimming where as those in Rawalpindi get lots of plastic decoration. Karachi excels in using reflective tapes, also called ‘chamak patty’ in local language. Camel bone decoration is used by artists of rural Sindh.

Pakistan Truck Art Check out the photo to the left and note the amount of detailing that has gone in decorating the area around number plate and indicator lights at the back of a truck. Quoting reference [4] below. It is said that:

In Karachi alone… more than 50,000 people toil in small, family-run workshops comprised of apprentices and highly trained artisans, each with his well-defined specialty. Dominated by the painstaking ethic of proudly independent craftsmen, this time-consuming manufacture is the opposite of mass production: Every hand-painted truck, bus and rickshaw, despite sharing numerous signs and symbols, virtually screams its uniqueness.

The Poetic Talent of Owner and Painter Shows on a Truck

Pakistani trucks are also used as means of displaying the owner or the Painter’s Poetic taste. It also serves as a calligraphic board as well as a notice board for public messages.

Note the two photos below. In the photo to the left the truck owner is declaring himself as hopelessly romantic (ye dil hai aashiqaana) and in the photo to the right he is requesting his beloved to accompany him to his hometown, which is by the way, Khuzdar Balochistan. (aao sanam Khuzdar chaleN)

Pakistan Truck ArtPakistan Truck Art

History of Vehicle Painting in Pakistan:

Atleast one website (here) gives following history of bus/truck painting in Pakistan and quotes it to one Peter Grant.

Pakistan Truck ArtThe extraordinary tradition of decorating trucks has its roots in the days of the raj when craftsmen made glorious horse drawn carriages for the gentry. In the 1920s the Kohistan Bus Company asked the master craftsman Ustad Elahi Bakhsh to decorate their buses to attract passengers. Bukhsh employed a company of artists from the Punjab town of Chiniot, who’s ancestors had worked on many great palaces and temples dating back to the Mughal Empire.
It was not long before the truck owners followed suit with their own design. Through the years the materials used have developed from wood and paint to metal, tinsel, plastic and reflective tape. Within the last few years trucks and buses have been further embellished with full lighting systems

Pakistani Truck at Smithsonian Museum at Washinton DC:

Pakistan Truck ArtQuoting Richard Covington who wrote ‘Masterpieces To Go: The Trucks of Pakistan’

Americans got a tiny taste of Pakistani truck painting in the summer of 2002 at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, when Ali and bodywork expert Jamil ud-Din brought a truck from Karachi to Washington, D.C. They decorated it right there on the National Mall, as outdoor artists-in-residence. As a talent scout for the festival’s Silk Road theme, truck aficionado Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan and a top us scholar of Pakistani culture, chose the pair for their versatility in incorporating the country’s disparate styles of truck art. Their finished masterpiece, a 1976 Bedford, is now part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. (Photo to the right)

Kafeel bhai Ghotki walay


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Pakistan Truck ArtA Small town in Northern Sindh called Ghotki is famous all over the world because of a truck painter who originally hailed from here. His name is ‘Kafeel Bhai’ and he signed his paint work on frieght trucks as ‘Kafeel Bhai Ghotki walay’ (brother Kafeel from Ghotki). As the number of trucks painted by him increased on the roads, so did his popularity because he not only signed his name on trucks but also wrote an introduction to himself as an ambidextrous cricket player who could do both slow and fast bowling. As cricket is a national passion in Pakistan, Kafeel bhai’s name spread far and wide. His signatures included the sentence:

‘cricket ka be-taj badshah’ (uncrowned king of Cricket) and ‘Left-arm right-arm medium-slow bowler, kafeel bhai Ghotki’

It is said that overtime his fame crossed seven seas and a team of reporters arrived from Australia to see his ambidextrous bowling. His introduction at Wikipedia says that nowadays he weaves cloth or nylon strings to make chairs in Ghotki. People who know him claim that he has reluctance accepting money from people and never demands money for his goods or services. People usually have to give it to him themselves. He often refuses to take the money in his hands and asks the buyer to just place it in his pocket.

The Movie Pair of Rani Mukherjee and Mustafa Qureshi??

The truck owners and truck artists of Pakistan also pay homage to their heroes and heroines in their own innocent ways. These painting do not strictly follow the aspect ratio of real life figures. That is why Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee is painted on a Pakistani truck with some extra weight. I don’t know who is the male figure on the other truck. My guess is Mustafa Qureshi (my first guess was Javed Shaikh) but I’ll take your guesses too ?

Pakistan Truck ArtPakistan Truck Art

Some other figures that frequently get painted on Pakistani trucks are Madam Noor Jehan, late Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Lady Diana.

PHOTO CREDITS:

1. All Photos for this post (except the Smithsonian one) are courtesy of Abro at flickr.com
2. Pakistani truck Photo at Smithsonian Folk Festival is from flickr.com here

References and More Photo Galleries of Pakistani Truck Art

1. Abro’s Art of Wheels Pakistan Gallery at Flickr.com
2. Pakistani Truck Art
3. Pakistani Truck Art by Martin Sokefeld
4. Richard Covington and Shahid-ul-Islam’s Article: The Trucks of Pakistan
5. Pakistani Truck art at Flickr.com
6. Pakistani Truck Art being Promoted in Germany
7. The Painted Trucks of Pakistan by Tim Hyland

ATP’s Other Transport Related Posts

1. The Pakistani Rickshaw
2. Thinking Buses – Pakistan – Plus
3. Titanic Sightings in Pakistan

28 Comments on “Pakistan’s Indigenous Art of Truck Painting”

  1. Ahsan says:
    June 18th, 2008 4:03 am

    Very nice post Owais, you are getting better by time, Congrats!!!

  2. Ahsan says:
    June 18th, 2008 4:21 am

    A typical Pakistani truck drives on the world famous Karakorum Highway somewhere between Chilas and Dassu, Pakistan, August 4, 2003. Karakorum Highway is 900km (558 miles) long and connects Pakistan’s capital Islamabad with China (Khunjarab Pass – 4733m). Driving over this highway with an average speed of 45 kph (28mph) is an experience with an high adrenaline level. Left is the Great River Indus.

    http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=1666348

  3. faisal says:
    June 18th, 2008 5:30 am

    Man I love my country.

  4. Shaji says:
    June 18th, 2008 5:42 am

    There was this similar (but not the same) effort in Melbourne when they did a local tram in the style of the Karachi W11 for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Apparently it even had Nur Jahan playing in the tram :)

    http://2006melbourne.com.au/In+the+News/Photo+Galleries/Karachi+comes+to+Melbourne/Default.htm

  5. faraz Waseem says:
    June 18th, 2008 9:49 am

    Well, if we can eliminate Taliban from Northern areas, it seems that people of that region have artistic and romantic nature :)

    Just see, it takes lakhs to decorate a truck which serves no business purpose but infact increases fuel cost. So it is all about person sitting in truck.

  6. shahid says:
    June 18th, 2008 10:38 am

    are kiya yaad kara diya !!!!

    YES trucks are very well decorated, especially those from Karachi and Peshawar which travel from one corner to the other.

    Pupoo Yar Tang na kar, Jane wale tera khuda Hafiz, Yeh Dil ha aishqana, maan ki dua jaanat ki hawa.

  7. Asma says:
    June 18th, 2008 10:40 am

    I was going through Abro’s photostream a day back too … simply marvellous :)

    And I think the person painted on truck is Babar Ali turned Mustafa Qureishi …in some “Humayun Gujjar”-tracked movie :~)

  8. Harris Siddiqui says:
    June 18th, 2008 1:08 pm

    Great post Owais. I have always been fascinated by the colors of these trucks.

    Years ago in Islamabad/Pindi, one saw many trucks owned and operated by the people of Haripur/Hazara region and you would see Ayub Khan’s picture in the back with “teri yaad aayi tere janay ke baad” written on them.

    About the picture of Rani Mukhar Jee, maybe Khan Sahib wants her to look that way :-)

  9. Shaji says:
    June 18th, 2008 3:06 pm

    Nobody but Javed Shaikh has such a dimple in his chin. And also that might not be Rani but rather Anjuman. I’ve personally never seen a Bollywood actor on the trucks.

  10. DL says:
    June 18th, 2008 7:47 pm

    While each vehicle receives a lot of effort in embelleshing it, and quite intricate patterns can be found on their bodies, I have always found the end result to be kind of an eye sore. The patterns are so “over-done” that one feels a sense of confusion and incomprehensible complexity; they hardly appeal to my sense of beauty and aesthetics.
    My two cents.

  11. Hussain Kazim says:
    June 19th, 2008 4:16 am

    Excellent! Thank you. What a nice tribute to a truly Pakistani and awami artform.

  12. Akbar says:
    June 22nd, 2008 5:40 pm

    Trucks and busses and rickshaws and taxis are painted in many many countries. I wonder why this fascination with folk painting public transport?

    DOn’t get me wrong. I love it myself. But just wondering why this happens?

  13. Kabir says:
    June 23rd, 2008 9:42 pm

    What a nice write-up and pictures. Thank you for this.

  14. Tina says:
    June 24th, 2008 12:05 pm

    The trucks and buses of Pakistan are the first thing that hits the eye of the visitor and are a favorite photograhic subject of tourists. For good reason! I have some panels of Dhaka bicycle rickshaws framed on my walls. Best loved and unique pictures of tigers and whimsical birds in a fantasy landscape. Thanks for this post. The colorful and diesel fumed traffic of Pakistan is etched in my memories–will never forget it….

  15. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    June 27th, 2008 1:26 pm

    @ Hadisati Rang-amezi pay, agar mizaj-e-girami pay
    gir’an ne guzray, to arz hay:

    Raag-Rangon ka imtizaj, hay khoob ,
    Apki ankhon ko sab hi bhata hay

    Ham say poocho, to aiy hamrah-e-safar,
    ji jalanay ko muhn chirata hay
    Rafay Kashmiri

    Yeh Dil Hay Ashiqana !!
    Aao Sanam Khuzdar chaliay !!
    Dekh kay Dua karna, meri Jaan !!

    I thought, KalaBagh Dam was finished ?

  16. February 9th, 2009 9:20 am

    nice collection

  17. Ammara says:
    April 1st, 2009 3:46 pm

    very nice and creative…………..
    and mind blowing detail work…………..
    Masha Allah…………Pakistanis are great……:)

    Keep it up………………
    cuz its our heritage and part of our culture……….

    and Allah give our country the more Prosperity and Success……………..Amin

    and INsha Allah soon our country will be one of the super power and great one nations…………….

  18. Owais Mughal says:
    May 13th, 2009 1:37 pm

    A truck getting painted in the city of Hala, Sindh. See here

  19. Owais Mughal says:
    May 21st, 2009 9:51 am

    A truck body getting ready for paint-job in Hyderabad. see here

  20. February 8th, 2010 4:44 am

    very informative… just wanted to know the source of the information ” artists from the Punjab town of Chiniot, who’s ancestors had worked on many great palaces and temples dating back to the Mughal Empire”
    Because to see the truck art more seriously we need to have the proof of the history. i will be glad if you can asswer to this

  21. February 16th, 2010 9:11 am

    intrested in truck art & truck art objects,

  22. rizwan says:
    May 14th, 2010 4:21 am

    Dear Sir,
    I intend to use the pictures related with biodiversity, animals and plants to be used in a poster. The poster is absolutely a non-commercial activity and will be used to enhance awareness about rich biodiversity. Hope to listen from your side urgently,
    Sincerely,
    Rizwan irshad

  23. mekaal says:
    May 18th, 2010 4:38 am

    i need the permission to use some of the images of Truck Art to represent the artistic nature of Pakistanis in a presentation. this is a non-commercial affair and i will not be getting any profit from it.

  24. anees says:
    August 4th, 2010 2:34 pm

    dear sir,
    can i use one or two pictures from this article for a report.

    anees

  25. domizia says:
    August 26th, 2010 7:03 pm

    Hello!I’m domizia from italy, and the next year i’ll travel with a truck to Pakistan.
    I want to ask to you if somebody can get some adress of truck shop where can paint a part of the truck for me!
    Anyone can explain to me how it works? How long does it takes usually to paint a part of a truck?
    thankyou very much for your help and sorry for my orrible english!
    best regards
    Domizia

  26. August 29th, 2010 3:30 am

    Americans explore a little about Pakistani truck painting in the summer of 2002 at the Smithsonian Folk life Festival, when Ali and bodywork professional Jamil ud-Din brought a truck from Pakistan’s city Karachi to Washington, D.C. Have a look at The Innovative Trucks of Pakistan Hope you will like it.

  27. January 26th, 2011 11:48 am

    I am Pakistani Freelance Designer,, work for last several years. i am very much inspired by truck art..

  28. July 14th, 2011 4:18 pm

    As a Pakistani Designer, i like truck art
    Nice Collection
    Thanks

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