The decorated cars featured in this blog are a novelty in Pakistan. In a country with per capita GDP of $1100 and just 8 cars per 1000 people, owning a vehicle is a privilege reserved for the elite. Car ownership is a widely held aspiration, a sign of wealth, and a demonstration of status.
Decorated trucks, on the other hand, connote something much different. According to many truck art scholars, the eclectic and colorful expressions found on truck art are an outward reflection of the trucker’s lifestyle. Alain Lefebvre makes this point in “The Decorative Truck as a Communicative Device” Semiotica 75, no. 3-4 (1989). Page 218
The driver is aware of the reputation as a modern adventurer he has among the men-in-the-street.
Through his behavior and manners he tries to express masculinity, courage, and toughness in such a way that the others’; fear and respect are strengthened. He drives fast and carelessly, the road is his own; he smokes hashish (both to enhance his reputation and because it is an aid in surviving the tempo of work); he likes erotic love songs; he has sexual relationships with his young assistant; he smuggles goods; he shows off by recalling how he is constantly confronted with dangers on the road. In other words, these characteristics are complementary to the power of expression of the truck itself.
The difference between truck and car decoration could support this explanation. The car-owning middle and upper class Pakistanis share none the characteristics Lefebvre associates with Pakistani truck drivers. Instead, their life runs a pattern similar to their Western counterparts, working an eight-hour day and driving a normal vehicle appropriate for the routine of that lifestyle. In the eyes of many from this background, truck art is considered garish, sophomoric, and unsophisticated, and staid, unembellished vehicles are more appropriate.
Other scholarship on truck art echoes Lefebvre’s characterization. George W. Rich and Shahid Khan make a very similar point about the trucker’s lifestyle. (“Bedford Painting in Pakistan: The Aesthetics and Organization of an Artisan Trade” The Journal of American Folklore, 93, no. 369 (1980))