"Horn Please": Talking Truck Art With All India Permit
Way before we had one day Spotify plans to keep us engaged on our road trips and commutes, peeping outside the car’s window, humming alongside evergreen tracks on radio channels and chuckling away at the witty words on the back of trucks is a memory every road tripper has gotten etched in their minds. What might have been a subject of a light hearted moment for us means much more to the people driving these trucks throughout the lengths of the country, away from homes for stretches longer than one can imagine.
Celebrating the inherent expression that truck artists and the trucking community comes with, All India Permit is a first of its kind initiative that has been working towards shedding light on the lost and underrated truck art of India. The art form is something that the majority of the country is still unaware of, but deserves nothing less than widespread acclaim and recognition on various levels.
Coming to life as the brainchild of Farid Bawa, a communication designer hailing from Nagpur, the project finds its roots entangled with Bawa’s childhood and family. Having grown up surrounded by the environment of a trucking and transport business incepted by his grandfather, trips to truck yards and interaction with truck artists were a regular part of the designer’s childhood. It was only 3.5 years ago that Bawa came across the use of ready-made vinyl stickers and pre- painted trucks replacing the art of various truck artists and decided to intervene and take the revival of the craft in his hands.
While there are no written scriptures or documents to trace the history of the craft, Farid shares with us one of the many stories of inception that he has heard from the truckers first hand. After WW2, military trucks were the most common means of transport when it came to goods and people as well. The trucks would look extremely unapproachable owing to the camouflage print they sported. To make the trucks look less scary to travel in, local artists would come together to paint the trucks, make them colourful with images and typography, thus making them more welcoming.
With time, the art became more and more personal to the trucking community, eventually becoming more than just a beautification process - rather an artistic representation of the person driving or owning the truck, brought to life through the immaculate skills of the artists.
The trucks usually feature various versions of reminiscence painted to remind the drivers about life back home - be it a painting of a woman reminding the drivers of their wives, painted gods to protect the truck and the drivers from risks. The figurines range from the cows we worship, the eagle symbolizing speed and endurance, to freedom fighters standing for manliness and “macho-ism” that the drivers like to showcase. A lot of trucks feature personal renditions of similar subjects, making it way more intrinsic.
The initiative’s name has been inspired from the nationally acclaimed All India Permit that is given to vehicles to travel across states, institutionally on a piece of paper, but to ease the hassle of travel, many a trucks have the logo of AIP painted on them. The yearning to preserve the art form came forth when Bawa saw the increasing use of printed vinyl stickers and pre painted trucks had started putting the truck artists out of business, and they’d taken up painting ads on walls, painting people to painting on any other surface to sustain themselves and their art.
After thorough research that involved talking to the various people who have been a part of this profession and some groundwork in the yards, Bawa formed All India Permit with the intention of giving more visibility to the craft and promoting it on a wider scale. Initial experiments involved the use of paper as a medium to present the craft commercially but the look and feel didn’t communicate the thrill and fun as well as it does on trucks. This led to the use of recycled metal sheets as the canvas for the truck artists, which upon painting are made available for people through the AIP website.
Soon after starting the project, Bawa moved to Amsterdam pursuing a job in the advertising industry, where he also approached various art galleries to help amplify the voice of his passion project. Around the same time, news broke in media and brands had also started to pour in with various collaborative proposals, thus giving a green signal to the initial intention of starting off All India Permit.
All India Permit has collaborated with brands like Vans and Levi's. Another interesting cross cultural collaboration that came through was when Garage Project Brewery from Wellington and Mountain Goat Beer from Australia collaborated over a new beer variant, Chai Spice Mix and approached Bawa to design labels for their product and found truck art to be rather honest and authentic representation of the India, and the best fit to represent the dramatic mix!
All India Permit has also collaborated with Google India over an activity called Google Immersion created at Google headquarters to immerse the employees at the company in cultural activities. The workshop involved taking the Google employees to the truck yards, getting them to experience the activity of painting first hand through the guidance of the artists, and the "googlers" taught the artists about their process in return.
With brands reaching out to collaborate, various people in Amsterdam and Brussels recognizing the craft and its deeply ingrown purpose through talks and seminars, Bawa came to realize that the art and its presence in its homeland is rather unnoticed.
The desire to make the art known in India gave birth to the idea of All India Permit Road Trip, which came to fruition through the making of India’s first mobile art gallery, stationed inside a refurbished scrap truck, painted all over, inside and outside with artworks by various truck artists displayed inside the truck. The course of the trip involved various stops at schools, social avenues and restaurants to get the masses educated about truck art and initiate a conversation.
Having explained the various facets and attributes of the art form, Bawa mentions that the process, precision and innateness that the artists possess is rather exceptional, provided they have no institutional background, unlike so many of us who go to art school and dwell over every tiny detail. The truck artists are always experimenting, inventing typefaces as per their imagination and painting mobile canvases with makeshift grids made from chalk and thread.
With plans of eventually expanding the initiative to other places in the country, All India Permit is currently working towards many projects, one of them being the digitization of the already existing truck art in the country and finally bringing forth a digital gallery. Bawa also mentions that the word has been getting out in the community itself, with the artist’s kids writing emails to him regarding what All India Permit has been doing for the artists and their talent.
Channeling a rather personal outlook towards the concept of culture, Bawa states,
Preserving the mobile memorabilia of truck drivers and artists with a futuristic outlook that is helping truck art getting recognized in all nooks and crannies of the country and beyond, All India Permit is the perfect example of preserving, promoting and giving a platform to amplify the voice of a community in the truest sense. Head over to AIP’s website and get yourself a token to remember all those road trips!