Pakistani truck art bus benches in Washington DC

An otherwise non-descript street in a residential Northeast DC neighborhood, has been livened by the installation of two new benches.  Thanks to a grant by the Awesome Foundation and painter Haider Ali, the bright benches are a welcoming contrast with the greys, whites, and browns of the street, houses, and bricks found on Michigan Avenue NE. The benches themselves are comfortable and much different than the government-installed bus benches that are sit feet away. Those benches, barely large enough to allow riders to rest more than a few inches of their body, are possibly an example of deliberately inconvenient public design to discourage extended use. The Pakistani truck art-styled benches have ample space for two people to comfortably sit and enjoy Haider’s colors and details.

Each bench has its own character and set of colors, yet both have traditional truck art motifs, adapted slightly for the US. One bench has the Pakistani and American flags, along with a majestic peacock that covers the length of the bench. The other bench is centered around an eagle, another common motif, and topped by women’s eyes. Unlike the rest of the work which is painted with acrylics, the eyes are printed stickers.

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Just how popular is Justin Trudeau in truck art?

The picture of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has gone viral multiple times. But it’s unlikely that is ever appeared on a truck, in Pakistan or elsewhere.

Portraits of politicians, generals, and sports stars are not unusual on Pakistani trucks. They’re almost always found on the rear of the vehicle, where there’s the most space available and usually less religious imagery. Its not common, but not unheard of, to see non-Pakistanis featured. During the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was a popular subject, as was Princess Diana following her death.

Trudeau is good looking, young, and soft-spoken. In many respects, he’s the opposite of Trump. Although there’s a large Pakistani population in Canada and Trudeau has made efforts at outreach, he’s far from the most prominent world leader. That he’s not the most likely person to be featured on a Pakistani truck makes the painting all the more noteworthy. This picture has gone viral and replicated thousands of times, but there’s no evidence that it ever appeared on a truck. I’ve been told that it was commissioned specifically to hang as a picture, not on a vehicle.

While its a beautiful piece, the picture of Trudeau never appeared on a truck. It was first posted by a Twitter user @jawadhq13 on January 28, 2016. It was widely circulated, even making its way to a Pakistan Day reception hosted by the High Commission in Canada in March of that year. About a year later, it suddenly generated more attention, including coverage by French media, several Pakistani  outlets that apparently missed it in 2016, and even Russia Today. All media used the same image in their reporting.

Hopefully Trudeau in truck art will spark media attention again, with another image, on an actual truck.

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