Trucks as Art: Pakistan's Colorful Tradition, With a Midwestern Twist

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An American artist wants to bring Pakistan's most cacophonous art form to the U.S.

Cargo trucks painted in bright colors, with an extremely intricate level of detail, are a common sight on the the highways of Pakistan. The paintings -- often coupled with lines of poetry, religious calligraphy or common phrases -- represent the truck driver's identity and regional background. The images on the trucks embody a wide range of themes, including landscapes, celebrities, beautiful women, mythical creatures, religious imagery and national heroes.

While these fully functional trucks are used only for transporting goods in South Asia, Asheer Akram, a young American artist from Kansas City, Missouri has embarked on the project of building a Pakistani cargo truck with a Midwestern twist in the hope of mixing venerable South Asian traditions with modern American culture.

"Why can't I bring this art form to the States to help educate people and promote cultural awareness and understanding," asks Akram. "I can -- but not without proper funding help from everyday people who would like to see this idea manifest itself in reality," he explains. Currently, Akram and his team are attempting to raise funds for the Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative through Kickstarter, where the project has managed to raise a little less than half of their $30,000 goal with 19 more days to go. Here's our interview with Akram.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative, and your collaborators in this project?

The basis of our project is the visual aesthetic of the cargo trucks of Pakistan and the ideas that surround their use. We are building a cargo truck in the traditional Pakistani style with a Midwestern twist and a new function.

After coming up with the idea we started applying for grants, both locally and nationally. We had little luck. So when we caught wind of Kickstarter, we were more than thrilled, since Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects that will allow us to gain the support we need as well as present it to a wide audience. We are hoping our project will be rolling through towns and cities across the U.S. thanks to the support of the public rather than donations and grants from large art organizations with their own agendas.

Our collaborators are mainly artists and artisans from the Kansas City, MO area and other Midwestern cities. After I had announced publicly that I was undertaking the project, people just started getting on board. Most of them I know personally and professionally. They are all extremely focused, talented individuals.

Brock Deboer and Linda Lighton are local ceramicists, each of whom is involved with many of the ceramic details we have planned for the truck. Lighton has already produced several pieces for the interior knobs and panels in the truck, and DeBoer will make ceramic aspects of the back body of the shell of the truck, including panel work.

Bill Heineken will be making the truck bling, with custom spinners for the wheels.

Jorge Calvo is heavily involved in the production of planking and exterior woodwork for the truck, of which there's quite a bit since the truck's grill, doors and bed are all wood-intensive.

A few years ago, Jesse McAfee together with Will Burnip developed The Print Factory, a mobile woodblock printing studio which travels the country giving handmade prints away and selling custom versions of their printing press. McAfee will build a compact printing press that will ride around as the cargo in our truck. Burnip will also be working on the hand-carved detail work we've envisioned for our truck's door.

Kathy Bernard will create stained-glass-like elements for the top of the cab and cargo bed. The glass will elegantly illuminate the interior of the vehicle, providing a gorgeous multicolored display of natural light.

Two members of your team, native Pakistani artists Haider Ali and Rahim Akbar, have both exhibited their work internationally. How were you able to enlist their help with the PCTI?

I read about Haider Ali's internationally acclaimed truck-painting skills as soon as I started working on this project. I had never thought or meant to contact him; however, I saw a man named "Truck Artist" on Facebook, friended him and everything fell into place. Haider was very interested in our idea, and if we are able to raise enough funding on Kickstarter, we intend to bring him to the U.S. to collaborate with our artists on certain aspects of the truck.

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Nadia Rasul is Senior Multimedia Intern at Asia Blog. She's pursuing a Master's in International Affairs at The New School.

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