We take a look at the colorful Pakistani practice of transforming large transport trucks into extremely bright works of art.



SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

All over the world, trucks are essential daily vehicles for transporting goods from one place to another. But in Pakistan they have long been known as canvases for very bright and colorful works of art. NPR’s Hannah Bloch recently visited a truck shop outside of Islamabad and sent this postcard.

HANNAH BLOCH, BYLINE: Everything about Pakistani trucks is exuberant and over-the-top — from the colors and splashed patterns to the intricate wood carvings on the doors. Each is richly decorated and no two trucks are alike. Muhammad Ijaz Mughal, a lifelong truck artist who learned the trade from his father, showcases his own works in a studio in his home. He says Pakistani trucks are more than just trucks.

MUHAMMAD IJAZ MUGHAL: (Through interpreter) When we decorate it, we hope people will look at our truck with love. When a truck is decorated, we treat it like a bride, we decorate it and take care of it.

BLOCH: He takes us to a sprawling workshop just off the main trade route between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. There are painters, welders, metalworkers, horn sellers and electricians, all busy refurbishing and decorating the vehicles parked in the yard. Every driver wants their truck to be the best, most decorated, colorful and admired vehicle on the road, says Mughal.

MUGHAL: (Through interpreter) We make sure that when a truck hits the road, it looks good. It has a variety of beauty. It should look the best, so that’s what we’re trying to do.

BLOCH: At the truck shop, a painter named Irfan puts the finishing touches on a mountain valley scene in bright green, orange, blue, and red. He has been painting trucks for 20 years now.

IRFAN: (Through interpreter) It’s my passion, and I wanted to do this work. That’s why I’m in it.

BLOCH: His favorite thing to paint are peacocks.

IRFAN: (Through interpreter) Because the peacock is the most beautiful bird, so I want to paint this bird.

BLOCH: Besides the peacocks, the trucks carry whimsical paintings of hearts, flowers, movie stars, politicians, angels and army generals. There’s mirror work, embossed metal and jingling chains…

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF JINGLING CHAINS)

BLOCH: …as they hang from the bottom of each truck. And then there are the horns.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF TRUCK Honking)

BLOCH: Pakistani anthropologist and filmmaker Samar Minallah Khan says Pakistan’s tradition of truck art is special, in part because it overturns assumptions about truckers.

SAMAR MINALLAH KHAN: It just celebrates their culture, their way of life. You see they are artists. They are poets. They have a sense of humor. They love nature. They love, you know, so many things that need to be celebrated.

BLOCH: And thanks in part to Khan’s efforts, Pakistani trucks not only look good and sound good, they also serve a social good. She helped start a project in 2019 in which trucks carry portraits of missing children, along with a helpline number to call.

KHAN: So if anyone sees this image and, you know, wants to contact this organization or this helpline with any type of information, it would be easier for them, you know, to remember the number and all.

BLOCH: Many have reached out. Of the 20 or so missing children whose portraits were painted on trucks, Khan says at least five have been found.

Hannah Bloch, NPR News, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

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