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Horn OK Please: This digital platform helps truck artists gain global recognition

An Amsterdam-based designer has launched a website to draw attention to the creativity of artists who paint commercial trucks.

art and culture Updated: Jan 29, 2018 09:15 IST
Soma Das
Soma Das
Hindustan Times
Farid Bawa,All India Permit,AIP
Panchi, enamel paint on cold rolled steel sheet by Raj Dongre. A sense of free-spiritedness inspires many truck owners to ask artists for a painting of their favourite birds, be it of an eagle or a parrot or pigeon. (Courtesy: Farid Bawa )

Designer Farid Bawa’s fascination for trucks dates back to his childhood. His grandfather, who moved from Rawalpindi to Ludhiana, and eventually to Nagpur, started Bawa Roadways in 1964, and Bawa grew up surrounded by trucks. “I used to get up early morning to see these trucks getting ready for their long journeys. I would watch as the truck artists would paint them,” recalls Bawa.

As an insider, he also noticed how despite the uniqueness of the craft, most truck artists struggle to make a living, especially when there are fewer or lesser-paying projects. The advent of pre-painted trucks and DIY stickers also affects their trade.

With a background in design — Bawa studied Communication Design at MIT Institute of Design in Pune and works in Amsterdam as a designer with the creative agency DDB & Tribal — he decided to set up a digital platform to preserve and revive the art form.

In September 2017, he launched All India Permit, a website that allows truck artists to sell their artworks online. “We travelled to a lot of cities, met artists and realised how diverse the art form is. We wanted to find a mix of artists, which we did, and launched the site,” says Bawa.

Buri Nazar, a face motif with a tongue sticking out as a charm to protect the truck from the evil eye, by Raj Dongre. ( Courtesy: Farid Bawa )

At present, AIP is collaborating with six artists who make enamel paint on steel sheet artworks. The paintings showcase kaleidoscopic symbols, catchy one-liners, kitschy designs, and 3D typography that characterises truck art. The selection includes images of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, deities Durga, Shiva and Ganesha, the ubiquitous Horn OK Please sign, the Nazar Battu icon (to ward off the evil eye), and even an image of freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad.

Traditionally, truck art showcases kaleidoscopic symbols, catchy one-liners, kitschy designs, and 3D typography. ( Courtesy: All India Permit )

“The artists, most of whom are self-taught and have been practising this art for generations, express their emotions through art — be it feelings for their lover, respect for a deity, national pride, fandom for a movie star, or remembrance of home,” says Bawa, adding that truck art is a symbiotic relationship between the driver, the artist and the vehicle: “Each truck holds special significance and pride for the driver and the artist. In fact, they tell the artists to make their truck stand out among all the trucks on the highway.”

Bawa envisions AIP as a movement to help artists and the art form gain global recognition. So the next step for him is to set up AIP art galleries and host workshops with truck artists. “These artists have been in the business for generations and the recognition they deserve has still not been given to them. We want to make sure that these artists and their art becomes visible to more people across the world. Greater awareness will bring greater financial stability and a better future for the artists,” says Bawa.

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First Published: Jan 29, 2018 08:57 IST