Pakistan’s truck artists, who transform ugly lorries into flamboyant moving works of art, fear boom times for their trade could be at an end as NATO winds down its mission in Afghanistan.
The workhorses of the Pakistani haulage industry are often ageing, patched-up Bedford and Dodge models, but almost without exception they are lavishly decorated.
Elaborate colourful designs, calligraphy, portraits of heroes and singers, mirrors and jingling tassels are skilfully worked onto the trucks by artists such as Haider Ali.
In his open-air workshop in the heart of Karachi, a goat or two browsing the dusty ground, Ali sketches out a design for a boat.
Others include horses, partridges, tigers, the faces of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto or singer Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi.
“The design depends on the owner of the truck. Everyone wants his truck to be different from everyone else’s,” Ali, who left school to follow his father Mohammad into the truck art business, told AFP.
ruck art has become one of Pakistan’s most distinctive cultural exports in recent years, but it is still not highly regarded at home.
“The higher echelons of society don’t call it art but craft — or anything else, just not art,” said Ali.
Call it what you will, decorating trucks is big business — haulage firms and lorry owners shell out $5,000, even $10,000 a time to have their vehicles adorned.
It can take a team of half a dozen artists nearly six weeks to decorate a truck, not just painting but working up intricate arabesque collages of laminated stickers.
Jamal Elias, a truck art expert from Penn State university in the United States, said it represents the largest art sector of the Pakistani economy.
“You can’t say the gallery world or textile design begins to compare in size,” he told AFP.