That’s the beauty of art. It is not just limited to white cube spaces, galleries, and exhibitions. It surrounds our everyday lives. The social media posts you see every day — most of them have been designed by some graphic artist. The stack of books lying on your bedside table or the design of the soda can you are drinking from— they are works of an artist. The hand-painted high-resolution frames of a videogame that you are currently obsessed with or the comfortable cardigan you wear in winter, quilted by your grandmother years ago — it all comes under the purview of art.
When we say homegrown art, there’s not a lot more organic than the art that we see behind trucks, buses, rickshaws, yellow taxis, and auto rickshaws. In South Asia, truck art is a popular form of regional decoration, with trucks featuring elaborate floral patterns and calligraphy. It is most common in India and Pakistan. In India, religious iconography, poetry, animals and political logos are common features of truck art. In Nepal, it is a common practice to embellish all parts of the truck. Then, highly detailed wood paneling is carved on the trucks. Often, along with the artworks, there are some humorous and quirky lines, accompanying them. Phrases like “Horn OK Please” or “Obey Traffic Signals”, written in bright stylized fonts are embedded in our long-term memories.
One of the most famous truck artists in the world is Pakistan’s Haider Ali. His artistry came to the limelight in 2002 when he painted a Pakistani truck as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Nafees Ahmad Khan, an Indore-based truck art artist, is renowned throughout India and has been designing the art on one truck every day for the last thirty-two years. Mr. Syed Phool Badshah, better known as Phool ji, is another famous truck artist who is best known for his unique style of incorporating fine art with truck art.
Truck art’s influence has spilled into other domains as well. In Mumbai, you many drivers have decorated their taxis with a truck art flair. The vibrant colors of Pakistani trucks have inspired some globally renowned fashion designers. The Italian fashion company Dolce & Gabbana used truck art-inspired displays in a 2015 campaign. Apart from clothing, truck art has also been incorporated into shoes by some designers.
To further bring the South Asian heritage of truck art into the limelight, All India Permit has collaborated with Bonne Suits, a clothing brand from the Netherlands. All India Permit is an organization that revives and promotes Indian truck art and culture by taking it to homes, offices, skateparks, bars, festivals, digital spaces, and more. Boone Suits is a renowned fashion brand based out of the Netherlands that creates customized unisex suits.
The idea behind their joint venture was to turn the all-purpose suit into a traveling canvas; a living exhibition that celebrates and preserves the heritage and craft of Indian truck art. As a result of this wonderful collaboration, 21 unique suits were flown out to India where four truck and sign artists — Chandu Sontake, Raj Dongre, Akhlaq Ahmad, and Kafeel Ahmed Ansari — collaborated with Farid Bawa to create artworks on the suits, infusing classic Dutch design with rich Indian heritage. Farid Bawa is a renowned Indian graphic designer who collaborates with Indian truck artists to make and sell prints of truck art online, in an effort to preserve the tradition of truck art.
The limited edition and unique handpainted suits along with accompanying photography will be exhibited and sold at Galerie De Schans, Netherlands from 17:00-21:00 on Friday 28th April, and will be on display until the 14th of May.
Personally, I am a tad sad that being in India, I will not be able to attend this exhibition. But my heart is filled with pride seeing how the South Asian heritage of truck art is receiving a global platform to express itself.
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