By Hussain Dewani
The rich cultural heritage of Pakistan has been impressing people in different parts of the world for quite some time now. Ethnic diversity of Pakistan has always given her an edge in terms of dynamic cultural beauty and brilliance. The art in Pakistan takes many forms like painting, calligraphy, sculpture making, architecture, apparel designing, etc. The fact that makes Pakistani art different from those in other parts of world is that it takes influence from various regions and regimes, but at the same time has an inimitable characteristic of its own too. Notable influences in Pakistani art come from Mughal era, Arabic art, Persian art, colonial regime, etc. However, bright colors & delicacy are few things that have remained an integral part of all the forms in all eras. An indigenous art performed in Pakistan & that is an attraction for people living in all parts of the world alike is TRUCK ART. The extraordinary tradition of decorating trucks has its roots in the days of the British Raj when craftsmen made glorious horse drawn carriages for the gentry. 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, whose ancestors had worked on many great palaces & temples dating back to the Mughal Empire. From Mughal times till now, Drivers decorate their trucks with colorful patterns, paintings of celebrities, poetic verses, quotations, mirror work, wooden designs, etc. 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. Truck art is very expressive like any other art form. It says something to you and hence represents its driver too. The visual component of these vehicles creates a hierarchical system of value and class; the more ornate and beautiful the truck is, the more valuable the goods it will be carrying. The tradition comes from the era of crafts and craftsmen from the Mughal Empire. These vehicles take hordes of Pakistani craftsmen and many months to complete. Extreme attention is paid to the intricate details in every aspect of these trucks, from the paint job to the finely hand-carved wooden doors.
This elaborate style stems from the old style of palace decor employed during the Mughal era. The themes usually employed in the decoration of these trucks vary from the drivers’ favorite actors or sports stars all the way to aspects of traditional local culture in the Pakistani provinces that they hail from. More than anything the drivers of these trucks use the decorations to define who they are and what they are proud of.
The art crafts include eagle, dove, & swords etc which are so well decorated that the observer appreciates the maker for sure. These art crafts are classified for each part of truck separately like you can’t decorate the mirrors with back light art craft hanging.
Now truck art is recognized as a form of cultural diversity. Not only trucks but also rickshaws & fashion designers, dress up their goods with truck art and move in splendour all across the country with unprecedented pomp & show. Partly due different ethnic heritage, partly due to the unique stories each tribe has to offer, even within Pakistan, each province has its own distinct style of truck art. While Sindh is famous for camel bone work, Baluchistan and Peshawari fleet owners prefer wood trimmings, & Rawalpindi & Islamabadi trucks favour plastic work. The materials, the colour, the arrangement, & the overall art style ultimately serve as a cultural representative of the region. ”Truck art in India & Pakistan represents desires, dreams, hopes, idols, serenity, food, colour, protection, & freedom. The colour and decoration signify a kind of escapism, from a reality that can otherwise be sharp at the edges, with few comforting spaces within. It represents stature: he who has the best truck will get the most business—amongst clients or ladies or otherwise.”