Has Ghulam Sarwar Made Washington, DC the US Capital of Truck Art?

In October 2011, Ghulam Sarwar, an artist who hails from Peshawar but works mostly in Karachi, visited Bethesda, Maryland, in the suburbs of the Washington DC. He practiced his craft on several US vehicles (the exact number is not mentioned in any of the articles), homes, and buildings, including the door of Honest Tea, a local beverage producer. Though he notes in this interview that the motivation among his American clients is different than Pakistani truckers, he does not seem to mind. This article, which also has the best collection of pictures, describes the enthusiastic reception among Americans.

For a typical assignment, such painting the KIA Soul in the picture, he receives $1,500-2,000 and takes between 7 to 10 days. He also painted a Volkswagen Bug on Capitol Hill for $1400. This is not the first painted bug from Pakistan; [UPDATE LINK HERE]others have been mentioned on this site. Though few vehicles of those vehicles have seen a US audience. All the American owners interviewed raved about Sarwar’s work and the response the vehicles generate.

This is most recent of several visits to the US by Sarwar. In 2009 the artist participated in a Sante Fe exposition of craftsmen from the developing world and received an Award from UNESCO for his contribution.

Sarwar has previously expanded his artistry beyond trucks. He has partnered with Tribal Truck Art to decorate homewares with a truck art motifs. It was the founder of Tribal Truck Art, Anjum Rana, who helped Sarwar gain exposure at the Sante Fe Festival.

I see initiatives like Tribal Truck Art in a different light after finishing Professor Jamal Elias’ recently published book on Truck Art. The work as a whole is remarkable, essential reading on truck art, and deserves a much more thorough treatment than one blog post. In brief Elias views Tribal Truck Art, which are run by Pakistani elite, as exploiting the art and its lower class producers. Though Sarwar is now working for a different audience and clientele, it is not clear if he is disadvantaged by doing so. Or if this change serves to distort the art rather than preserve it. For Sarwar as an individual, he seems to have enjoyed the multiple trips to the US and the additional exposure.

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