Van art — a reflection of local culture in public transport

Published October 1, 2017
Flowers, horses, peacocks and other small pieces are assembled on the steel sheet and fixed onto the body of the vehicle. — Photos by Mohammad Asim
Flowers, horses, peacocks and other small pieces are assembled on the steel sheet and fixed onto the body of the vehicle. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

Truck art typically brings to mind the brightly and intricately painted large trucks that can be spotted across the country, but another lesser known, but no less ubiquitous, form of truck art, called Suzuki art, is often used to decorate public transport vehicles around the city.

These vehicles are decorated with brightly coloured reflectors and stickers, as well as little bells, and while most of these items are readily available in the city many people prefer to take their vehicles to specialists.

There are up to 5,100 public transport vehicles running on 22 routes in the city. The industry has generated employment for many, including those involved in decorating these vehicles, from body-making to artists.

Dotted around Babu Lal Hussain Road, Pirwadhai Bus Stand and I.J. Principal Road, truck art shops offer the services of experts who decorate vehicles with motifs made of reflectors and colourful stickers.

A worker in Pirwadhai paints small bells at the base of a public transport vehicle.
A worker in Pirwadhai paints small bells at the base of a public transport vehicle.

The process of decorating public transport vehicles is not extensive, and it takes a day to finish decorating a vehicle.

First, a steel body is prepared by a blacksmith who then hands over the body to decorators. The decorators in turn cut reflectors and sticker paper into figures and patterns which are then fixed onto the body of the vehicle. Other accessories, such as small bells, are added depending on the vehicle owner’s wishes.

Stickers in the shape of flowers are cut out and placed on silver sheets.
Stickers in the shape of flowers are cut out and placed on silver sheets.

“The reflectors and stickers are not destroyed in the rain or warm weather. Most people decorate their vehicles in the summer, as they are busy working in the winter,” said Yasir Ahmed, who owns a shop in the backyard of the Pirwadhai Bus Stand.

“It is a form of truck art, but there is a difference between truck art and Suzuki art. In truck art, landscapes and figures are painted using oil colours or synthetic colours, while in this, the body of the vehicle is made from steel sheets and decorated with small stickers and reflects,” said Mohammad Nadeem, a shop owner in Babu Lal Hussain.

Decorative bells are attached to the front and back of the vehicles.
Decorative bells are attached to the front and back of the vehicles.

He said truck art is limited to trucks and trolleys but for the last 30 years local public transport vehicles have been decorated with motifs and stickers from China and Korea.

“Such vehicles are available in Rawalpindi city and other parts of the district. This form of art is also used to decorate rickshaws in Lahore and other parts of the country,” he added.

In Rawalpindi, he said, it is mostly owners of public transport vehicles, commonly called Suzuki walas, who decorate their vehicles while rickshaw drivers do not want to make an additional investment in their vehicles.

Mohammad Saleem fixes colourful stickers and reflectors onto a vehicle. A taj, or crown, is fixed on the vehicle’s roof. — Photos by Mohammad Asim
Mohammad Saleem fixes colourful stickers and reflectors onto a vehicle. A taj, or crown, is fixed on the vehicle’s roof. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

But why are these vehicles decorated at all? Some people say it is to make public transport vehicles more attractive while others say these vehicles represent the local culture. But transporters say decorating their vehicles is a way to differentiate them from private vehicles and vehicles carrying goods.

“It is a unique thing in Rawalpindi city as decorated public transport is used here. In other districts in the Rawalpindi division, public transporters ply simple vehicles,” said Raja Riaz, president of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Transporters Association.

He added that the decorative body has been approved by the Regional Transport Authority (RTA), and the decorations help people identify public transport easily. He said in the presence of such vehicles, other vehicle owners did not use the RTA’s public transport routes without a licence.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2017

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