Just like the Billboard painting performed in Pakistan, there is another indigenous form of art performed and it is the Truck Painting. With its all colorful floral patterns, depiction of human heroes with creative aspect ratios, calligraphy of poetic verses and driver’s words of wisdom, this form of art is truly a part of Pakistani transport tradition.
This art is so Pakistani, that the freight trucks which are built by Ford, General Motors, Hino Pak etc in beautiful aerodynamic shapes are first retro-fitted with very Pakistani style bodies and a special ‘viewing deck’ at the top of Driver’s cab. The ‘viewing deck’ is a very multipurpose extra space. It is used by ‘cleaners’ to sleep at night and also to load extra luggage when needed.
In Karachi alone… more than 50,000 people toil in small, family-run workshops comprised of apprentices and highly trained artisans, each with his well-defined specialty. Dominated by the painstaking ethic of proudly independent craftsmen, this time-consuming manufacture is the opposite of mass production: Every hand-painted truck, bus and rickshaw, despite sharing numerous signs and symbols, virtually screams its uniqueness.
The extraordinary tradition of decorating trucks has its roots in the days of the raj when craftsmen made glorious horse drawn carriages for the gentry. In the 1920s the Kohistan Bus Company asked the master craftsman Ustad Elahi Bakhsh to decorate their buses to attract passengers. Bukhsh employed a company of artists from the Punjab town of Chiniot, whose ancestors had worked on many great palaces and temples dating back to the Mughal Empire.
It was not long before the truck owners followed suit with their own design. Through the years the materials used have developed from wood and paint to metal, tinsel, plastic and reflective tape. Within the last few years trucks and buses have been further embellished with full lighting systems.
Americans got a tiny taste of Pakistani truck painting in the summer of 2002 at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, when Ali and bodywork expert Jamil ud-Din brought a truck from Karachi to Washington, D.C. They decorated it right there on the National Mall, as outdoor artists-in-residence. As a talent scout for the festival Silk Road theme, truck aficionado Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan and a top US scholar of Pakistani culture, chose the pair for their versatility in incorporating the country disparate styles of truck art. Their finished masterpiece, a 1976 Bedford, is now part of the Smithsonian permanent collection.
A Small town in Northern Sindh called Ghotki is famous all over the world because of a truck painter who originally hailed from here. His name is Kafeel Bhai and he signed his paint work on freight trucks as “Kafeel Bhai Ghotki walay”(brother Kafeel from Ghotki).
As the number of trucks painted by him increased on the roads, so did his popularity because he not only signed his name on trucks but also wrote an introduction to himself as an ambidextrous cricket player who could do both slow and fast bowling. As cricket is a national passion in Pakistan, Kafeel bhai’s name spread far and wide.