If you had to identify one piece of art that best represents the vitality and vibrancy of Pakistan, it would be the local trucks
If you’ve ever been to Pakistan and travelled on one of its highways, chances are that you would have been greeted by the sights of colourfully painted trucks featuring floral patterns and poetic calligraphy. People say that this tradition is as old as we can think.
Such trucks are a common sight on the highways of South Asia, particularly Pakistan. The paintings – often coupled with lines of poetry, religious calligraphy or common phrases – represent the truck driver’s identity and regional background. The images on the trucks embody a wide range of themes, including landscapes, celebrities, beautiful women, mythical creatures, religious imagery and national heroes. Not just paintings, trucks in Pakistan are highly customised and decorated by their owners. These decorations can cost the owners anything from $3,000 to $5,000, some reports say. The decorations often contain elements that remind the truck drivers of home. Decorations may include structural changes, paintings, calligraphy, and ornamental decor like mirror work on the front and back of vehicles and wooden carvings on the truck doors. Depictions of various historical scenes and poetic verses are also common. Chains and pendants often dangle off the front bumper.
As for major city centres for such truck art, Karachi is a notable one, though there are other hubs in Rawalpindi, Swat, Peshawar, Quetta and Lahore as well. Trucks from Balochistan and Peshawar are often heavily trimmed with wood, while trucks from Rawalpindi and Islamabad often feature plastic work. Camel bone ornamentation is commonly seen in trucks decorated by artists from Sindh. Such trucks are also known by the slang term ‘jingle truck’.
If you’re left wondering how this name came into being, you may have to go back in time. As per reports, the term comes from a slang used in the United States military, coined by servicemen in Afghanistan, although it may date to the British colonial period. In any case, the term came to be because of the “jingle” sound that the trucks make due to the chains hanging from the bumpers of the vehicles. Now, this popular form of art has gone beyond trucks. Though cars are not traditionally decorated in south Asia, there are several examples of smaller vehicles being embellished in truck art style. In 2009, ‘The Foxy Shahzadi’, a 1974 VW Beetle decorated in a truck art style, travelled from Pakistan to France over a 25-day journey.
The lively colours of the trucks have also inspired multiple fashion designers. The Italian fashion company, Dolce & Gabbana, used truck art-inspired displays in their 2015 campaign. Although used more often in female fashion, some male clothing lines have also been inspired by this truck art.
By: Elizabeth McGraw