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Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Silk Road

Nomads

Painted Truck

Once roads in Pakistan and Afghanistan were full of brightly decorated wagons, ox carts, and other vehicles, along with the animals that pulled them; today these decorative arts have been applied to elaborately painted trucks. In the past 50 years the decorative styles have increased dramatically, with each region of Pakistan developing its own distinctive motifs and decorations, such as landscapes, important monuments, and pithy sayings and poems. Truck owners often compete with each other to see who can create the most elaborate and flashy design, but all trucks are protected from the "evil eye" with black scarves, large painted eyes, or an old shoe hanging from the bumper. The cabin interiors are equipped with mirrors, beads, and fancy cushions as well as sound systems for blasting music as the trucks roll down the highways.

Drivers from all over Pakistan come to the port city of Karachi to pick up goods, and the truck-decorating tradition thrives there through the work of local truck makers, repairmen, and painters who know all of the regional styles. The truck featured at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival combines elements of different regional styles: carved wooden doors common in Swat and Peshawar, camel bone and white plastic inlay typical of Sindh, peacock motifs found mostly in the Punjab and Sindh. Stainless steel designs are common to all regions. The paintings include scenes from throughout Pakistan and others from right here on the National Mall, at the Folklife Festival.

Click to enlarge and view captions

Click images to enlarge and view captions