Anyone who has traveled to Asia will be familiar with the way people like to decorate their vehicles. But in Pakistan, it is elevated to an art form … The trucks, many of them old Bedford Rockets, provide a moving canvas for the artists, who compete to see who can execute the most daring and outrageous designs. Buses too enjoy the same lavish outpouring of primitive aesthetic
pattern, color and form.
Truck / Bus decoration evolved here in the decade of the 70's when ownership moved away from the elite to the working class. While this art form traces its immediate origins to the decorative horse drawn carriages made for the gentry during the Raj, its basic expressiveness stems from the rural craft / art ethos of embellishing objects with garish rudimentary designs to brighten up a drab rustic existence or as a reflection of their inner exuberance.
Noteworthy here is the progression in this art form with the relocation of these craft artists to urban city centers. While the thrust is still on crude primal art, the influence of producing work in urban centers has brought noticeable change in use of materials, concepts and imagery.
Through the years, the materials used have developed from wood and paint to metal, tinsel, plastic and reflective tape in fluorescent and radium colors and the very fancy incorporation of full lighting displays. While trucks are mainly decorated with painted images on wood panels, the steel bodies of buses respond very well to the sticky plastic "chamak patti" medium.
The self adhesive, multi colored, reflective plastic tape or "chamak patti", available in large rolls is the primary art material with which the bus is decorated. Line drawings of patterns are tenciled onto the vinyl material and cut as per design requirement and pasted onto the bus exterior. This expertise extends to an amazing variety of floral, geometric, all over, corner as well as border patterns, idyllic landscapes, attractive female faces, exotic birds, fish, tigers and ions and also weaponry, rockets and landmark heritage sites. Truck art is denigrated to a lower form of craft art expression here, mainly because the workers are unlettered artisans with next to no concept of formal art academics. However, they are proficient in the technical application of this art, which indicates that it is not dearth of artistic talent but lack of requisite education, which prevents an artisan from becoming an artist.