The Forgotten Truck Art of Pakistan

Graffiti goes back centuries, but in more recent times renegade street artists like Blek le Rat – and later Banksy – have been daubing iconoclastic and satirical art onto walls and in public places in order to make bold artistic or political statements. But what about the simple desire to make something prettier or aesthetically pleasing. Maybe it is time Banksy and his cohorts checked out the little known folk art of truck painting.

Graffiti on vehicles is entirely different to the kind of art produced by Banksy and Blek le Rat. You could probably trace it back further, but during WWII servicemen, pilots and gunners would spend hours in the airfields painting various ephemera on the fuselage of their planes to combat the monotony and kill time between missions. They would paint things such as devils, cherubs, pin-up girls and even political slogans like better dead than red. Spending so much time in their vehicles; working in them, sleeping and eating in them, perhaps even perishing in them, might have given them a sense of ownership; one that dictated their desire to “tag” them. The same could surely be applied to truck drivers.

This isn’t an endorsement or a recommendation to paint your trucks; And I am sure Eddie Stobart would not be happy if someone defaced one of his lovely green and red wagons. But we have all seen those trucks where a more understated protest of ownership has been displayed in the form of a sticker, a flag or a discarded teddy-bear strapped unceremoniously to the grille. In Pakistan they are slightly more flamboyant, and their indigenous art form of truck painting is a truly remarkable thing.

Again it comes down to a sense of ownership, as these artistic creations are the endeavours of their owners sometimes self-painted, sometimes just designed and taken to specialists. Some might say they are gaudy and meretricious, others would say beautiful, vibrant, kaleidoscopic works of art that hark back to the 1960s. They are also highly personal; some even with poetry and various other verses in Sanskrit.

Designs are typically internal as well as external, and fascinatingly each city in Pakistan has a truck design unique to it. Some even incorporate additional metalwork or timberwork into the designs to make them structurally different and more attention-grabbing. This may sound strange to the outsider, but in a country where Truck Art is a national institution one imagines such competition is necessary.

WORDS: Adam works alongside ex-fleet trucks supplier Fleetex and is fascinated by the weird and wonderful alternative uses of trucks.