Magic on Wheels 

Tribal truck art

When Ajum Rana was a small child, she fell in love with the flamboyant embellishment and animated paintings that cover transportation vehicles throughout Pakistan. Ajum remembers copying verses and images from vehicles while driving past, captivated by these magical sites on wheels. As a way to preserve this style of painting and strengthen Pakistani cultural identity, Ajum founded Tribal Truck Art, where she is committed to the preservation of this unique national folk art. Additionally, she has been pivotal in helping to bring this painting style into the mainstream by employing master craftsmen to transform everyday objects into one of a kind functional decor. The collection includes plates, water jugs, bowls, trunks, mirrors, and much more.
Tribal Truck Art not only provides a steady source of income, but helps bring legitimacy to these artist's work. Anjum says, “Truck art has been recognized more and more in Pakistani culture, but it still very much ridiculed and thought of as a ‘kitsch.’ Many from the upper class would never consider putting this art in their homes.” Over time, this reputation has changed and it is now considered to be folk art, as it expresses one's dreams, aspirations, status, courage, lifestyle, and values.
Anjum says, “In the mid 1950s, truck art came into being when Pakistan opened the Karachi port, handling the majority of the nation’s cargo. Truck drivers would carry fuel and other goods from Afghanistan all the way up to Central Asia, a journey that would take as long as four to six months. They would have to stay away from their homes and loved ones for months at a time. Drivers led very lonely lives. They found joy in decorating their vehicles, painting imagery reflective of their life experiences, hopes and desires."
For centuries, all forms of transportation in Pakistan have been decorated, including camels and other animals. For example, camels are adorned with bells, red-carpeted seats, and tassels so they could be recognized in the deserts through color and sound. Anjum adds, “Trucks in Pakistan have a similar history. Truck painters write verses on the trucks which are so true and yet may sound funny and relate to their simple, daily lives.” Today, trucks are covered with a mix of materials such as wood, metal, shiny reflective tape, stainless steel, bells, plastic, lights, beads, tassels, and more.
The symbolism and imagery is vibrant and eye popping. The paintings illustrate natural landscapes, famous actresses, politicians, and national heroes which are embellished with reflective stripes, flashing lights, extravagant paints, and shiny stainless steel. It is also common to see painted calligraphy of poetic and inspiring verses. Ajum adds, “Typical depictions are of Imran Khan, the cricketer, a politician who won the World Cup. Other dream-like images are often seen such as spiraling roads leading to lush verdant valleys with water flowing, which expresses how the driver dreams of living in such a pristine environment. Another popular religious symbol is the image of Mecca. Some religious images are for good luck as the drivers travel through dangerous terrain for hours and months on end.” Trucks become painted patriotic billboards, each unique in their expression. Truck owners can easily spend more on their trucks than on their homes as their vehicles are a sign of wealth and status.
Over the years, Anjum has held exhibitions throughout the world. In 2008, she was given the Seal of Excellence for Handicrafts by UNESCO, and continues to exhibit at the annual Santa Fe Folk Art market. Ajum has taken this art to a new level, creating a platform for Pakistani artists to be recognized and respected.  
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