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Bedford Trucks and Art
The history of Pakistan’s truck art goes back to 1920 when Bedford trucks invaded the streets of Pakistan. A giant wooden prow was fixed at the top of the Bedford truck as a crown; decorative bumpers were placed besides wood panels along with the cabin of the truck. In the 1940s, companies even started to create their logo to make their respective trucks stand out in public, especially over long journeys.
Eventually, this effort pushed forward companies to become competitive over some time. The truck drivers were keen on making sure their trucks would stand out and this led to the point where they would spend two years of their wage, approximately $2,500, on a paint job.
In the 1920s, Pakistan’s road infrastructure was awful, which didn’t provide good maneuverability. In the 1940s, Belford trucks were imported and sold in Pakistan and became extremely popular, and in 1953 General Motors established a National Motors plant in Karachi for manufacturing Bedford trucks. After Ghandhara Industries took over National Motors in 1963, the demand for Bedford trucks became even more than before. While the demand for Bedford trucks was increasing, Pakistan’s truck art was becoming even more popular.
Haji Hussain: Inspiring Pakistani Truck Artists
In 1930, trucks were painted simply with protective coating alongside the name of the company stenciled onto the trucks. By the 1940s, as the competition between truck art companies increased, Pakistan’s truck art gained momentum. At that time, this allowed Pakistani truck artists to earn 1,500 rupees daily, while the person who assisted the truck artist made around 300-400 rupees.
After 1947, Haji Hussain, a bow and arrow maker known for being one of the initial truck artists, brought his skill in terms of painting murals and ceiling decoration to the newly independent state of Pakistan. This led Hajji Hussain to stencil various objects and impressions onto the trucks. Hajji Hussain settled in Karachi in the 1950s and Karachi became the center of truck art.
Today, in Karachi alone, about 50,000 people get employed for truck art. Even the truck drivers agree to pay up to 150,000 to 200,000 rupees since they get good responses from the public regarding their trucks. So to remain popular, they tend to decorate their trucks every few years.
However, for Pakistani truck artists like Kafeel Bhai, known for his paintings of Madam Noor Jehan, Princess Diana, falcons, and horses, it is the art itself that matters. According to Haider Ali, one of the most famous Pakistani truck artists and the CEO of Phool Patti (an organization promoting truck art internationally), “Truck art represents us (Pakistanis). We have mastered the art and it depicts a positive image of Pakistan before the world. We will continue with the tradition forever.”
Linking Culture with Art
Pakistan’s truck art also represents the road culture of the state and has gained the status of commercial art. That’s because Bedford trucks are exported to several countries, including the USA, Bulgaria, France, Germany, India, etc., and the truck art done on those trucks provides a sense of culture to foreigners. The poetry written upon the trucks is usually an artistic and emotional expression of the truck artist. Poetry can send the message of peace and harmony all across the world.
Truck art in Pakistan is quite promising; truck drivers with enough money are likely to spend more on truck art. However, the increasing use of shipping containers, in which color flatbed trucks are shipped, limits truck art. Since the flatbed truck lack side panels, there is less room for an artist to paint. Nevertheless, truck art is an essential part of Pakistan, as it exhibits the state’s various cultures and allows its artists to exhibit their creativity.
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