Thatta Kedona

Culture is a Basic Need

Art That Wins Hearts

By Shaharezade Samiuddin

Familiarity can make us blind to the obvious. Veering treacherously to one side, dangerously overloaded and bustling along in all its dazzling finery, perhaps the most obvious thing that we fail to spot on our roads, except when one arm-wrestles past us, is the minibus. The other times you may pay more congenial attention to the phenomena is when you end up behind one and muse, and then amuse yourself with the heart wrenching emotions contained in the poetry on the back.

Boasting its own set of aesthetics, often featuring a cross between vibrantly speckled peacocks and outlandish Garuda birds, dramatic poetry, wise sayings, intricate filigree, and a child’s shoe (next time you’re close to a minibus look for this one, it’s there for good luck!), vehicle decoration, such as those we see on our roads today, has been entrenched in the local culture for centuries.

In the past traditional transport, such as horses and camels, has long been adorned partially because of a love for colour and splendour, partially in veneration of one’s vocation and partially to outshine the competition. The tradition transposed to buses, trucks and rickshaws when public transport came into the hands of the working classes. Thus the first buses that truly livened up our roads were those decorated by court painters who had migrated from Bhuj in Gujrat. This outstanding example of pop art, painstakingly created with repousse stainless steel, acrylic plastic and reflective tape (trucks and minibuses are fertile ground for artistic experimentation with continually evolving material) that swathes the regular minibus has just never garnered much attention.that is, from the right quarters. Rather ironic, considering that the décor of the over decorated ‘bride of the streets’ is blatantly begging for a second glance.

It was certainly more than just a second take that Pakistani truck and bus art garnered when it landed on a tram in Australia just in time for the Festival Melbourne 2006, the cultural festival of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. Coordinated by Wajid Ali Arain, a visual artist and graduate of Karachi University’s Department of Visual Studies and executed by four chamak patti wala vehicle decorators Nusrat Iqbal, Muhammad Arshad, Muhammad Nadeem, and Safdar Ali from Allahwali who decorate the most adorned buses that ply Karachi’s longest route, the W11. The W11: Karachi to Melbourne project struck a chord with the Aussies from the word go.

Featuring a Melbourne tram plastered painstakingly with chamak patti and lighting by Iqbal and his team (who were flown to Australia for the project), this desi-style pop-art on wheels ran the streets of Melbourne to the beat of Noor Jehan’s Punjabi songs with the words, ‘Love is Life,’ candidly adorning its sides. The chamak patti tram carried more than 80,000 passengers over 12 days and won more hearts than any official drive — boasting tame fashion shows — to fashion a soft image for the country. Proclaiming its message of Love is Life, the tram traversed Melbourne’s City Circle route 120 times. On popular demand the tram continued to run once a week.

The desi-style pop-art on wheels ran the streets of Melbourne to the beat of Noor Jehan’s Punjabi songs with the words, ‘Love is Life,’ candidly adorning its sides. At the VM Art Gallery scenes from the project were displayed in the exhibition titled, ‘The W11: Karachi to Melbourne’.

At the VM Art Gallery scenes from the project are displayed in the The W11: Karachi to Melbourne exhibition. The video footage and the display of photographs taken by Wajid Ali and Kirsten Trist, a lecturer at the RMIT University in Melbourne keenly capture the capturing of Australian hearts. Scenes of exuberance and flamboyant dancing that celebrate this art on wheels have been frozen on film and mounted, befittingly with intricate chamak patti trim. Of the two films running at the exhibition one depicts the laborious making of the ‘chamak patti’ tram and the opening of the project while the other captures passenger reactions interspersed with traditional bus-style quirky verses inscribed on fate cards. By providing a vehicle (literally) to bridge barriers, reassess stereotypes at both ends and to have some fun in the process, the W11 Karachi to Melbourne tackled a host of diverse goals with one throw. That was the obvious outcome of the venture.

Less obvious was the revelation that seldom has a relationship building exercise, artistic or otherwise, had such a buoyant and cheery impact. Little about Pakistan, (including fashion shows) is associated with buoyancy and cheeriness. Indeed seldom has a more honest face of the country, gone into building its image. As it glowed with energy while plying the tracks of Melbourne, Karachi’s W11 grabbed goodwill by the tramload, not only because it radiated its message of love and peace, but also because it calmly asserted that we are like this only.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 9:36 AM,

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