Faasla na rakhain, pyaar honay dain
(Do not distance yourself, let love happen)
I have grown up in Karachi where trucks, local buses, lorries and autos are heavily embellished, notable with finely detailed ornament, painted with loudest of colors. Seeing these vehicles, decorated like a bride, painted with flying falcons, Sufi saints, political figures and showbiz celebrities, famous sights of Pakistan, flowers and animals is a matter of routine for every Pakistani.
I remember the oldest to the newest truck poetry as I remember my childhood rhymes to my yesterday’s last email I sent. For me these overly garnished buses and trucks were only public vehicles to attract people around and make it look fancy and the truck poetry with funky lines written at the back to the vehicle.
The art on the truck started reaching the brands of clothes, sandals, jewelry and furniture which also caught my fancy to bring them in my wardrobe, jewelry collection and home. But the most unfortunate moment for me was when I realized that what I was looking at as a crazy, aggressive vehicle decorated like traditional bride, either running fast as to win a marathon race in the day light with tons of passengers or moving as slow as a snail with next to my car at night heavily loaded with goods, was actually an asset of Pakistan which I have been attracted to but never recognized its worth until I have come across a very intelligent, positive, witty, extraordinary talented artist and a bohemian Syed Munawar Ali.
Syed is a graduate of NCA and currently serving as an Assistant Professor at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.Not only a well-known artist but an activist who is on full force for brining change in the society through arts. Syed doesn’t believe in art as a source of making money but a service which is the most peaceful source of bringing change in the society and in people’s perception, mainly of the general public.
With a history of being a part of many major art projects in Karachi like “Rung De Karachi”, “Pur Sukoon Karachi” and “Reimagining the Walls of Karachi”, Syed has been commemorating the public art and successfully achieved the goal to pass on street art to the general public; who now know, understand, celebrate and own street art.
When I heard about the Islamabad airport truck art project I was fascinated to know about the project’s details, moreover about this neglected genre. And for that Syed was the first person I contacted with bundle of questions, but as soon as he started to deliver, I realized that his knowledge and experience is above my limited questions.
Syed shared his exhilarating experience of the truck art project at the Islamabad airport which would be read best in his own words: “Ms NoorJehan Bilgirami, the owner of Koel gallery, contacted me and discussed the Islamabad airport proposal which was divided into many art installations but I was offered to install traditional or local art and craft at the domestic and international lounge of the airport. As I already had a team I made of the truck artists for the project “Reimaging the Walls of Karachi” so I accepted the opportunity.”
It was not only a part of the project for the team to get done but also a matter of concern to raise the standards and perception of the truck art. Decorating nearly a 620 feet large wall with truck art that has nearly 16 doors in the baggage claim area was not less than a challenge for Syed and his team.
Only few people, who have ever been associated with truck art, would know the fact that there are different ideologies and styles of truck art as per areas and cities of Pakistan. Syed was determinant to bring all these artists on the same platform regardless their ethnicity, language and work style.
He thoroughly enjoyed lining up the artists from different regions of the country whose work, style and use of colors and textures was different from one another which was Syed’s main moto to merge all together to showcase truck art as an art of Pakistan.
“We travelled the whole country to pick not just truck artists but the best truck artists from different areas and they were explained and assigned the project. A very interesting fact we came to know about art truck was that all cities have different styles of truck art that has a difference of color palates and subjects so we decided to make a large mural of 10 feet in height instead of getting the art done in small pieces.” Syed recounted.
The handpicked group of truck artists from Pakistan presented the pre production of the art work they will project. Looking at the professional way of explaining the process and strong mind mapping, Syed believed that these truck artists are like visual artists, the only difference is the difference of style
Syed and his team were not crimped to truck art but also worked and brought a slightly different style of the same that is done on the local buses in Karachi and Suzukis in Rawalpindi. The team behind the project didn’t want only the truck art all over but an amalgamation of all truck art styles and forms.
Nearly 40 pieces of the back part of truck, called Daala in local language where text is written, were made of 4×8 sizes and the experts of the Chamak Patti were asked to make the birds in grid format.
“We learnt a lot from these artists and seeing the process from a sketch to a complete painting or work is worth a watch. It was a hand on experience working with famous groups like Hyder Ali’s, Phool Jee and independent artists from Soharb Goth, Yosuf Goth and other areas of Karachi and Pakistan. From Pindi, UstadShafiq was also on board with us.”
For me, talking to Syed was like a rapid course to study truck art. He explicated the type of works that we see in truck art that’s also installed at the Islamabad airport which includes “Phool Patti”, a painting style; “ChamakPatti”, an addition to the truck art in which they add a glowing sticker, the third component is a mixture of Chamak Patti and steel. Sunlight work is also another type in which plastic is heated and then embossed in a relief format, last but not the least there is wood work as well.
Half of the work was done in Karachi because all type of truck artists come to this metropolitan city to work, and the other half was done in the different areas of the country.
These amazing truck artists do not go to any art school or university but are taught from their Ustads (masters) who, from holding the brush to mastering the skills, stay with them through thick and thin.
From a proposal to the projection, the truck art Islamabad airport project was of more than a year’s work of hardcore labor of truck artists, smart strategic planning of Syed, and efforts of Chief Curator of the project, Ms Bilgrami.
Foreigners have been fascinated by Pakistan’s truck art since 90s, or maybe before that. Books were written on Pakistan’s truck art culture among which Jamal J. Elias book “On Wings Of Diesel” published in 2011 has all details of this art form. But this is woeful and saddening for us that the art got valued much later from the country where it grew.
On one hand, countries like America, United Kingdom and other European countries celebrated the local art of Pakistan and the local truck artists like Haider Ali and Phool Jee truck art team were invited to paint and garnish their public buses, trams, trains and other vehicles, but on the other hand it was disappointing for the truck artists as there was no support from the country where this art is grown and this has always been saddening for them that their own country is unaware of it as an form of art.
“They were only excited about the fact that their Pakistani government has finally approached them and their work will be recognized by their names, people will know them and that was the fact that brought million dollar smiles on their faces and shine in their eyes.” Syed narrated.
The Islamabad truck art project did not only heighten the confidence of these artists but patriotism was kindled in them to do something for the country.
After Syed, there was another person who played a major role in finishing the task successfully and worked side by side with Syed, Wajid Ali Daharkiwala was the curator and the production in-charge of the project.
Daharkiwala is a visual artist, an Assistant Professor in the University of Gujrat and was one of the driving forces behind Islamabad truck art project. His detailed research, past experiences of working with truck artists in Australia and links with the truck artists in Pindi, Peshawar, Sahiwal, Chiniot and other areas of the country made the task easier as he himself used to go and assign work to the truck artists in these areas.
He personally kept an eye on the production to the day the art works were displayed at the Islamabad airport.
Completing this project was not as easy as placing an order and getting it delivered to the door step, but it required a circumstantial planning, projection and working, taking the precautionary measures side by side.
To maintain the quality of the installed work, the team decided to use the best material for Chamak Patti to save it from any damage; best base was selected for the art works, hard lacer was applied to the paintings so the colors of the paintings can stay for a long time.
Except the truck art installation in the domestic and international lounge, there were other 18 installations of artist’s work which was superintended by Ms Bilgirami. She had the main vision behind the installations and personally supervised the art works for every space.
Syed provided his studio to the artists who were assigned painting but the Chamak Patti and other truck art styles were done in artist’s local areas where the artists belonged and were comfortable working in. After the completion of the art works, they were gathered and taken to the Islamabad airport for the final installation.
Some people still might refuse to call this vibrant art genre an ‘art’ and deny that fact that these heavily embellished Lorries, trucks and buses have become a well-known genre around the world. When Syed was asked about the evolution of truck art and who would he credit for changing the concept from ‘art on wheels’ to ‘art on walls’, He explained:
“I personally feel that art has always been confined to the galleries and street art is not practiced for the general public that could ever help scrub away the gap and let the public own it. But these truck artists should be appreciated who have been filling the gap by brining the art on wheels and let the general public see and commemorate the local art on wheels”.
“In 90s, when Duriya Kazi, David and Dadi came back from abroad they enlightened the fact that truck art has reached to another level in the developed country. Specially Kazi has played a major and important role to heighten truck art not only in Pakistan but all around the world by carrying it from the streets to the international museums like Aboca museum and art galleries in abroad.” He added.
Syed believes that artist should not only showcase and talk about his/her work but this is an artist’s paramount responsibility to work for art, not for him or herself. Truck art is all about celebration and this is what an artist’s duty – to celebrate art and come out of the galleries and graduate shows.
Truck art is Pakistan’s home-grown and the only art for the general public today. It has become a part of the country’s culture and to retain the significance of truck art, designers, citizens, architects and artists themselves have to put an effort.
It has evolved today more than it ever had. The changing trend in truck art or the fusion of modern with traditional elements does not affect the originality of truck art.
“The style, type and form of truck art will never stay the same. As things are changing in the country, someone has to come forward – artists, architects, designers or the government – to take initiatives to keep this genre alive and going without changing its originality. Otherwise things would remain same as they were before the evolution of truck art and I fear it would gradually go down the drain or might find better foreign admirers”. Syed lamented.
Art is the most tranquil way of connecting people, disconnecting negativity and changing the environment. But regrettably, unlike other art works, truck art still has to reach every corner of the country to gain popularity within the country so it does not die down. The renowned art institutes should recognize truck art and pay heed so this should also get accepted and loved as an art of the country.