The under-appreciated, indigenous Pakistani tradition of truck painting has an extraordinary history, starting in the days of the Raj.This extraordinary tradition has it’s routes in the days of the Raj when craftsmen made glorious horse draw carriages for the gentry. In the 1920′s the Kohistan bus company asked the local Michaelangelo, Ustad Elahi Buksh, a master craftsmen to decorate their buses to attract passengers. Buksh employed a community of artists from the Punjab town of Chiniot, who’s ancestors had worked on many great palaces and temples dating back to the Mogal Empire.
As early as the 1920′s, competing transportation companies would hire craftsmen to adorn their buses in the hopes that these moving canvases would attract more passengers. The technique worked so well that pretty soon you couldn’t purchase a ticket without seeing dozens of beautifully painted trucks waiting to take you to your destination.
While the art doesn’t serve the same purpose anymore, it is still as prevalent as ever and has become more intricate and developed a deeper cultural significance over time. The proud truck owners spend $3,000-$5,000 per truck for structural modifications that convert these gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing, road-dominating monstrosities into beautiful moving canvases covered in poetry, folk tales, and ‘…religious, sentimental and emotional worldviews of the individuals employed in the truck industry,’ making it one of the biggest forms of representational art in the country.
Pakistani truck art is about cultural history and tradition, storytelling, passion, and sometimes playful one-upsmanship. As such, every little adornment on the trucks has a special significance
It was not long before truck owners followed suite with their own designs. 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.