Transported to Pakistan





Zoha Siddiqui, Sidwell '19



Understanding Pakistan through its truck art. (Published: 2017)





Lush greens, blazing reds, and stunning blues enlace each other in a swirl of flowers as the painter grows his acrylic garden. His canvas: the hard metal of a cargo truck. Yes, you read that right. Welcome to the alluring world of Pakistan’s truck art.

As a nation in South Asia, Pakistan is often stereotyped in mainstream media as a dangerous, impoverished country. However, the beauty of Pakistan—from its lush greenery and mountainous valleys, to its Mughal mosques and bedazzled trucks—is often overlooked. Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, truck art has been a central part of its artistic, religious, and political history.

Pakistani truck art is influenced by a number of religions and spiritualities. The most prominent spiritual influence is Sufism, a dimension of Islam. In fact, the idea of decorating trucks is believed to be a direct extension of the Sufi tradition of decorating shrines to propitiate Allah. By decorating his truck with Sufi images such as flowers, birds, and natural scenery in vivid colors, a driver remains under


"AS THE DAUGHTER OF TWO PAKISTANIS, TO ME, TRUCK ART IS A REFLECTION OF THE ORIGINALITY OF PAKISTANI CULTURE. IN TRUCK ART, I HEAR THE BEAT OF THE DHOL IN QAWWALI MUSIC, SEE THE CAREFREE FOOTSTEPS OF A BHANGRA DANCE, AND TASTE THE SWEET TANG OF GAJAR KA HALWA, A DESSERT PUDDING.​"


the safeguard of God during his travels, according to Sufi tradition. Sikhism is
another religion that has influenced Pakistani truck art, as many truck artists were inspired by images of Sikh gurus painted on trucks in India during the early 1940s. This intersectionality of religious influence on Pakistani truck art is more than just a historic explanation of the art form: more significantly, it is a reflection of the religious diversity of Pakistan as a nation.

Truck art in Pakistan not only mirrors the country’s important religious coexistence, but also provides a peep-hole into Pakistani politics. It is vital to note that truck art was not created as propaganda—rather, it all started as a result of the nationalist fervor that drove forward Pakistan’s independence in 1947. During the 1960s, truck artists began painting portraits of the nation’s leaders on their
automobiles. Th e most common face on
these trucks is still of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the “Great Leader” of Pakistan’s independence movement and the first Governor General of the nation.
Other Pakistani leaders also appear oft en, such as Ayub Khan, the country’s first military dictator, and Benazir Bhutto, the first democratically elected female leader
of a Muslim nation and twice Prime Minister of Pakistan.


Not only do Pakistani politicians appear in truck art, but so too do the leaders of other nations. Justin Trudeau, current Prime Minister of Canada, is famous for being featured in Pakistani truck art, along with Lady Diana, Princess of Wales. Aside from politics, portraits of international actors, such as Bruce Lee,
and sports players, like Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi, frequent Pakistani trucks as well.


As the daughter of two Pakistanis, to me, truck art is a reflection of the originality of Pakistani culture. In truck art, I hear the beat of the dhol in Qawwali music, see the carefree footsteps of a Bhangra dance, and taste the sweet tang of gajar ka halwa, a dessert pudding. I am proud of my Pakistani heritage when I see the detail and care that goes into every fender, every design, every ornament, and
every brushstroke on a truck. Each truck is hand painted, and each decoration handmade. Amongst the thousands that travel the nation, no two Pakistani trucks look the same. But one virtue that all of them share is the ability to transport you to another dimension of Pakistan: one of captivating beauty, diverse culture, and rocking cargo trucks.