“Trucks and totems perhaps present us with a modern, mechanical mysticism. The symbolic and emblematic factor heavily in decisions made concerning the decoration of each trucks façade, where the sacred (religious passages and iconography) frequently mingles with the profane (poetry, flora and fauna and the stars of popular culture).
The clannish associations of the totemic resonate with the homosocial nature of Karachi trucker life on the road; a kinship produced by exchanges between company heads, their drivers and the mechanics, apprentices and artisans in the workshop who are behind the creation of the extravagant bodywork for these vehicles. Furthermore, the design of each truck is unique. Motifs are chosen with close attention paid to their talismanic qualities: these are symbols and signs to escort the driver with safe passage through the streets. Choices in exterior decoration are so exact that passers-by can decipher the home region and ethnic group of whoever is behind the wheel.
The customised trucks of Pakistan are symptomatic of a folk art that has since become a booming industry. To brighten the shell of a Japanese HGV is not cheap – costing around £2,500, a hefty price where the average per capita income in Pakistan is £1,500. It’s a socio-economic bargain. Drivers often spend more on their trucks than their houses, as the more impressive the truck is, the more likely an offer for employment.
In Close to Karachi, vibrant slices of truck exterior in undiluted, ice-lolly hues are liberated from street-level and suspended overhead. Instead of housing a rattling engine, the sound that now emanates from behind the sheet metal is the audio installation Sounds of the Street. As recordings play, conversations with members of the Karachi public are steadily drowned out by the din of the shaking nickel.
In Burnes Road, Karachi (2015) a boy is flanked by men his senior, framed by the vibrant plate of a piece truck art. The picture seems less innocent in context. The charming facades of Pakistan’s trucks and buses sometimes hide terrible truths. Reports are that 1.5 million vulnerable street children like these are prey to widespread sexual abuse by drivers on truck routes, a taboo that is currently being addressed across the country, yes is still widely misunderstood and kept secret due to a culture of shame by the victims and their families.”
Natasha Morris, The Courtauld Institute of Art.