Dubai is a city filled with wealth. Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Range Rovers are a common sight to see. Tourists often gush and stare at the vehicles, more than often posing for pictures alongside the sports cars
But this is not the only time I have seen tourists get excited over vehicles. A few countries and hundreds of miles over, a jingle truck trudges its way across the highway, across the mountain ranges. Its slow pace and exuberant colors brings joy to every spectator who sees the image at its rear end. Leaning over to read the catchy and hilarious poetic one liners behind these beauties often becomes a hobby for other drivers on the highway who often themselves like the truck drivers, have a long journey ahead.
“Jingle Trucks”, is the name coined by American soldiers in Afghanistan for the unique artistic trucks in Pakistan. They probably came up with this term because of the sound the trucks as they are moving. The art form that is truck art, is quite commonly found in Pakistan. Not much is known about the origins of this art except that a very mellowed down version of this existed pre-partition. After Pakistan gained independence, this art started to gain more popularity. Now it can be found on Rickshaws, buses, and wagons. These designs can be seen behind almost every truck in the streets of Pakistan, which just makes it obvious how much the drivers of these vehicles appreciate this, and almost identify with it. So, this comes as no surprise that there are truck art workshops all over Pakistan. Quetta, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore are some of the few places where these workshops preside, with Karachi alone currently having more than 50,000 open air workshops. The most common images that can be spotted on the rear ends of the trucks are famous Sufi saints, landscapes, flying horses and peacocks often with embellishments of mirrors, carved wood and tiny bells. This initially started so that drivers could differentiate their trucks from each other. The style of art is commonly seen on boards outside of cinemas as well.
In this modern age, truck art is not just something seen on the roads of Pakistan. It has been now included to be part of the fashion industry in Pakistan. With clothes representing the unique designs to having models pose in front of trucks, it becomes clear how much Pakistanis love this unique art style that only seems to exist in this part of the world.
The first appearance of this art is hard to describe as not much is detailed in history. However, its first appearance seems to be on trucks and lorries driven by Sikhs in the 1940’s. These unique, loud paintings caught the eye of Muslim truck transport drivers as well, who customized this style for themselves by having paintings of famous Sufi saints behind their vehicles.
In the 1960’s truck art began to see a variety in Pakistan. For the first time, politics started to be incorporated. Ayyub Khan (Pakistan’s first military dictator) began to appear in art form on multiple trucks. Although this was probably done because Khan belonged to the KPK area where most of these truck drivers belonged from.
From the 1970’s the art began to expand all over the trucks rather than at just the back side. The art then became more exuberant and creative as well. It might have been inspired by the hippie movement in the west, where all colors were vibrant and bold. In fact, European hippies in Pakistan would often take LSD and go truck spotting, as for them this was psychedelic bliss.
The art around this also started to incorporate some Western figures. Princess Diana, Bruce Lee and Che Guerra have been known to be spotted. Images of cricket stars, show biz personalities F-16 jets, and missiles also became common, representing the country’s love for the sport and pride for their nations army.
A famous name which was born out of this craft was “Kafeel Bhai Ghotki” who became famous for his phrase that he painted behind trucks. “Kafeel Bhai Ghotki Wally- Right arm left arm spin bowler”. He was a cricket enthusiast who believed that he had the unique skill to bowl equally good with both arms. However, he never managed to succeed much in the sport as his imagined skill didn’t seem to exist on the pitch
This famous painter, who’s unique style is still appreciated today, didn’t seem to do anything for a living. He would ask drivers to pay for the paint and brushes and would set to work creating his masterpieces. Only surviving on the cups of tea and meals that the truck drivers would buy for him. Once a group of French men offered him to come to France where they wanted him to paint some trucks and buses. He refused once he found out that he would not be allowed to sign off the pieces with his signature quote
INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION AND APPRECIATION
In recent years’ truck art has been admired in exhibitions and festivals taking place in foreign countries. It seems as if this unique style of art has finally started getting the international recognition that it deserves. In fact, the luxury fashion brand Dolce and Gabanna have been known to use truck art in their designs. For their 2015 line they had rickshaws painted with truck art style displayed all around Milan, using them as makeup props.
For the 2006 Melbourne commonwealth games students painted and gifted a truck art inspired tram which was decorated to resemble a Pakistani bus. Interestingly the locals loved it so much that they even operated it in the manner of a Pakistani bus, with the conductor getting out at each station, banging the tram and yelling out the platform number!
Currently the pride of Pakistan’s truck art goes by the name Haider Ali. He has displayed his work all over the world, in countries such as Canada, Turkey, Australia and Japan amongst other countries. Interestingly, the German ambassador to Pakistan has joined in on the trend and has gotten his vintage Volkswagen painted in a minimalistic truck art style.
This unique art style is now finally gaining the international recognition that it deserves.
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