Why does truck art matter in Pakistan?
This place is special as it is usually reserved for Pakistani national heroes and actors/singers.
Peshawar-based painter Haji Naaz (65), who has spent more than five decades painting trucks in Pakistan, says a face painted on a truck is a symbol of people’s immense love for that personality.
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“In my career, I have painted thousands of trucks. People’s favorites over the years include General Ayub Khan, General Raheel Sharif, poet Allama Iqbal and more recently Imran Khan. From the Pakistani music industry, the portraits of singers Atta Ullah Khan Esakhelvi and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan have been widely featured. Till date, we get orders to depict General Ayub Khan and even freedom fighter Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Among women, Benazir Bhutto has always been the favourite,” says Naaz.
He says some drivers even get their family members painted pictures which shows how much space means to them.
Why is the truck tribute to Musewala special?
Actresses Divya Bharti, Aishwarya Rai and Mamta Kulkarni are among the few Indians whose photographs are still painted on trucks in Pakistan. “Musewala is probably the first Indian turbaned Sikh to be given this position, but not the first Indian,” says Naaz, “I am still painting pictures of Divya Bharti on trucks.
About Moosewala’s popularity in Pakistan, Rizwan Mughal, son of a truck artist from Rawalpindi, said: “It is because of his humble beginnings and struggles in life that people here connect with him. His songs were very close to real life. There is a tremendous craze for Punjabi songs here.
Before he was killed, Musewala also promised his fans to tour Pakistan with live shows in Lahore and Islamabad “before 2022 ends”.
Where did truck art start and how did it become popular?
Truck art in Peshawar and Karachi was introduced in the 1950s to meet the demands of truckers who wanted their trucks to be presentable.
Gradually, this unique blend of colors and murals with local handmade goods gained international fame.
In 2019, UNESCO used this art form to create awareness on girls’ education in Pakistan’s Kohistan district.
Ejaz Ullah Mughal, whose father the late Habib was among the first truck artists in Rawalpindi in 1956, recalls how the officials of the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) used to “make fun of” truck art at the time.
“It was around 1952 when some local artists started painting trucks, number plates and carvings of wood to beautify them. It was a localized art form that traveled the world as it became popular among foreigners who came to Pakistan to adorn their vintage vehicles. The manufacturing of Bedford trucks was stopped long ago by its UK company, but in Pakistan, they still work and the trucks look brand new because of the art. Truck artists are mostly self-educated without a fancy degree,” says Mughal.
People are still known to spend 1 lakh to 20 lakh rupees in Pakistani currency to paint their trucks. But the art form is slowly dying out.
“Some of them (truck artists) are now left in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Karachi who know the original work,” says Mughal.
Rawalpindi-based truck artist Tariq Ustad, who has been in the profession since 1971, says that the truck art became exquisite and more complex over time.
“When we started it was very easy. Earlier we used to complete five trucks in a day and now one truck in five days. Sometimes some drivers even made truck keys of gold,” said the maestro.
Niyaz Gul, a transporter from Peshawar, said that earlier there was a trend to decorate the buses but with time it got lost.
Another truck artist, Bahar Ali, says: “Truck art is still visible in some areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) in Punjab and Pakistan because the people here are fond of driving trucks. Efforts are needed to save this dying legacy. Our job is to decorate every truck like a bride so that all eyes remain on it (Our job is to decorate every truck like a bride, so that people can’t take their eyes off).