You rarely see Pakistani truck art in Qatar, the modern Gulf Arab nation that I live in. But across the border in Saudi Arabia, and in many countries across the region, Pakistani trucks laden with art charm the roadways.
Writers of one article in Saudi Aramco World summarized the importance of this phenomenon: “All across Pakistan, this rolling folk art has turned village lanes, city streets and long-distance highways into a national gallery without walls, a free-form, kaleidoscopic exhibition in perpetual motion.”
In some of my earlier writings, I once described these trucks as ‘pigging across the Saudi desert floor’. Very inappropriate considering the disdain for pork by Muslims. But these are heavy trucks. Water trucks, many of them. Sewage trucks. Trucks that haul other supplies. Big trucks with small cabs and smiling drivers and lots of art that made me want to go anywhere I could learn to draw colorful triangles, lines, swirls and symbols in some fashion that might lead to…shhhh…enlightenment.
It takes me back to a discussion I once had with Canadian Governor General award-winning director Robin Phillips, when he was Director General of Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre. “Art is essential to life,” he said. “It’s in everything.” He proceeded to explain that art is in the essence of everything that we enjoy: fashion, radio, architecture, television, hairstyles, and not just in high art settings like major theatres. It was a discussion we had at a time of ‘cutbacks’ or austerity measures in my home province of Alberta, when Edmonton City Police gave back its rented art, deemed a frivolous expense for station walls. It is one of the reasons I left my home to travel the world. It is why I love Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the grit, pace and life that go beyond economics, though Pakistani truck art is clearly about economics.
This past year, after seeing Al Jazeera documentary Risking It All, I became more charmed. The stories of the men who risk their lives are compelling. Take 25 minutes and enter another world:
If you only have five minutes, here’s the BBC’s Close Up on Pakistani truck art:
Originally posted June 14, 2011