Masterpieces to Go: The Trucks of Pakistan

 
    • Truck decoration, other regions have evolved their own signature idioms. In Peshawar, trucks sport far more calligraphy than illustration. In Rawalpindi and Islamabad, designers cut out colored plastic sheets and layer them to create unusual patterns and geometric effects over the truck exterior. Artisans in Baluchistan and Peshawar are esteemed for their magnificently detailed woodwork carved on cab doors and interiors. Camel-bone inlay is emblematic of Sindh, while stainless-steel peacock appliqu’s are popular both in Sindh and the Punjab.

      For such a vibrant industry, supercharged with color, the future, unfortunately, looks distinctly gray. Unlike the current generation of painters, body workers and decorators who learned their trades from their fathers, uncles and older brothers, the upcoming generation shows little interest in following in their relatives’ footsteps. Nor do their parents necessarily want them to.

      Still, with all the irrepressible energy that goes into truck decoration, it’s hard to imagine this quintessentially Pakistani craft dying out any time soon, particularly with painters like Master Shahid Sahab around to renew the tradition.

      “Master Sahab paints crazy, wacky things like army officers waterskiing, a Saracen warrior slaying Godzilla, mythic Greek heroes in togas,” chuckles Kazi. “Then he’ll put plastic lovebirds on the dashboard and a ludicrous-sounding horn that blasts out a wolf whistle. I love this kind of madness.”

      Somehow, you feel sure that the rest of Pakistan does, too. For optimists like Kazi, who shudder at the unthinkable prospect of the country’s roads becoming as drab as any garden-variety interstate or autobahn, this moveable feast of imagery is nowhere near a dead end.

      Text: Abridged from the original version written by Richard Covington and published on the March / April 2005 issue of Saudi Armaco World. Copyright ©2004-2010 Aramco Services Company.

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Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

A man haws trinkets for cabs, in Karachi, Pakistan. 2005. Pakistani truck drivers may spend two year's wages customizing their Bedfords or Hinos, buying splendiferous vehicular makeovers that employ painters, carvers, metal chasers, weavers and bric-a-brac assemblage artists - some 50,000 of them in Karachi alone. Some of the decorations echo motifs that adorned pottery, textiles and oxcarts nine millennia ago, but to the owner-drivers, its business: "More people will hire me if I have a beautifully painted truck," says one.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

A body fitting workshop on Garden Road. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005. Pakistani truck drivers may spend two year's wages customizing their Bedfords or Hinos, buying splendiferous vehicular makeovers that employ painters, carvers, metal chasers, weavers and bric-a-brac assemblage artists - some 50,000 of them in Karachi alone. Some of the decorations echo motifs that adorned pottery, textiles and oxcarts nine millennia ago, but to the owner-drivers, its business: "More people will hire me if I have a beautifully painted truck," says one.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

Body fitting, a hall mark folk art of Pakistan, has turned its village lanes, city streets and long distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion. The vast majority of Pakistan’s trucks, buses and motorized rickshaws are painted top to bottom with landscapes, portraits, calligraphic poetry, religious verses and wisecracking expressions of star-spangled banter. Only the big container freight trucks, the 18-wheeler rigs, escape decoration, looking naked by comparison. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.

A group of truck drivers. Pakistani truck drivers may spend two year's wages customizing their Bedfords or Hinos, buying splendiferous vehicular makeovers that employ painters, carvers, metal chasers, weavers and bric-a-brac assemblage artists - some 50,000 of them in Karachi alone. Some of the decorations echo motifs that adorned pottery, textiles and oxcarts nine millennia ago, but to the owner-drivers, its business: "More people will hire me if I have a beautifully painted truck," says one. Karachi, Pakistan. 2005.