Passing through narrow city lanes to the dusty highways, delivering goods in various parts of the country, trucks in India also carry with them an Indian folk art – the truck art or Kitsch.
Taking on their rear, messages like ‘Blow Horn’, Use dipper at night’, ‘Buri nazar wale tera muh kaala’ (ward off the evil and jealous), and ‘dekho magar pyaar se’ (look, but with love), trucks in India say a lot more than is visible. As we drive through different Indian cities, these messages and their language vary – for instance ‘stop’ becomes ‘thaamba’ (Marathi for stop) as we move from Delhi to Mumbai.
Truck drivers, who spend months on the road in their vehicles, decorate them with bright motifs, traffic messages, calligraphy, gods and goddesses, Bollywood personalities, and even names of drivers’ children and other family members.
Also known as Kitsch, the art form expresses feelings ironically or in a humorous way. However, these do not merely stand for aesthetic purposes, but also reflect the drivers’ religious beliefs and other viewpoints.
“I have got both my daughters’ names written at the back of my truck,” says Santosh Kumar, as he rests in his truck beside a fuel station in west Delhi. “I have hung their pictures inside as well. We sleep here (inside the truck), eat here, spend the most of the time here,” he adds.
Upon taking a close look at these trucks, it turns out that there are several little, hidden details in the design that give it a quirky look. However, one thing that makes the art stand out is the unique motifs and slogans. “Almost all of the trucks will have motifs or slogans which will have something to do with luck or keeping evil eyes away, as we travel a lot on highways,” he tells us.
One of the most frequent amongst those is the slogan ‘Horn Please’, which we could spot on almost every truck. “It is to remind others to honk while they overtake trucks,” Kumar explains.
Not a smooth drive
Despite the uniqueness of the craft, today many truck artists struggle to make a living, especially now when there are fewer or lesser-paying projects.
Nevertheless, many artists have been carrying forward the profession for generations. However, they don’t want their kids to follow it, but study instead because they realise that the profession is dying.
Moreover, with ready-made stickers replacing hand-pained designs, truck painting is now undergoing a transformation.
Reviving the art
To provide a global platform and recognition for these artists, an engineer based in Amsterdam launched All India Permit (AIP) – a website that allows artists who paint commercial trucks, to sell their artworks online.
AIP is currently collaborating with artists who make enamel paint on steel sheet artworks. The paintings showcase catchy one-liners, 3D typography, portraits of deities, the ubiquitous ‘Horn OK Please’ sign, the ‘ward off the evil eye’ icon, and more.
To further popularise the art form, AIP is working to set art galleries and host workshops with truck artists.
Jaipur , Rajasthan