As cheap stickers started to replace the bright hand-painted art, designer Farid Bawa found a way to help the artists share their art online
India’s truck artists were instrumental in helping designer Farid Bawa develop his own creative sensibility. As a child he would spend time with the artists who would paint brightly-coloured designs onto the trucks in his grandfather’s transport business. These days Farid is a senior designer at DDB & Tribal Amsterdam, having recently moved from India, and the fearlessness and joy of the truck painters is still a great source of inspiration. However, in recent years, things have become increasingly difficult for the artists as pre-painted trucks and DIY stickers started to hit the market. Work has become scarce and many of those who continue to paint must also pursue second jobs.
Farid feels strongly about making sure this vibrant folk art does not die out and wants to help make sure the artists who inspired him can keep their livelihoods. That’s why he set up All India Permit, and online art gallery and shop where the artists can sell their work. LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Farid about the project and what Indian truck art means to him.
LBB> When and how did you learn about the plight of Indian truck artists losing their livelihood?
FB> My grandfather, Trilochan Singh Bawa, established his own transport business after he moved from Rawalpindi, Pakistan to Ludhiana and finally to Nagpur, India. I grew up seeing a fleet of more than 50 trucks lined up, being washed and freshly painted before each journey. Artists used to gather each morning and paint their own unique style onto the trucks.
Over a period of time, these trucks underwent an upgrade and even started coming pre-painted. DIY stickers, which are a cheaper alternative, started taking away jobs from these artists. With such financial instability and almost no recognition of efforts or talent, these artists had no choice but to look for alternate professions to make ends meet.
LBB> Why do truckers in India traditionally get their vehicles painted?
FB> For them, truck art is a medium of self-expression. Truckers undertake long journeys and are away from home for the better part of their lives. The truck is their home, their everything! With help from the artists, truckers get their village scenes painted on the trucks. Sometimes, it's a picture of their lover. Or, the blessing of their mother. Or, a symbol of their deities. Or even their fandom for their favourite movie star.
Every trucker wants to give a unique character to their beloved truck. They want to decorate the highway in their own way and really stand out among all the other trucks. Which is why they also ask artists to try newer colour combinations, artistic calligraphy, inspiring quotes and humorous punchlines that will grab the attention of other fellow travellers.
LBB> What is it about their art that appeals to you?
FB> The uniqueness of the art form is what makes it so great. It comes directly from the soil, directly from the heart of these artists, who are mainly self-taught. One can see the confidence in the strokes with which these artists use these bold, vibrant colour combinations which otherwise we don't often see.
The artists are so good at their art that within a short amount of time they create marvellous 3D lettering, ornamental designs and quick-witted slogans, so effortlessly.
LBB> How did you come to the idea of helping the artists sell their art online?
FB> I have been watching these artists since when I was a child. I have seen them create magic on the trucks and then, on the contrary, I've seen them struggling to even make ends meet. These artists, who have been in the business for generations, have started to find other professions. There was hardly any work, almost no recognition for their efforts and talent, and not enough income.
So, when we decided to start All India Permit, our sole aim was to preserve the art form and revive these artists. Putting their art online not only widens the horizons for this art form but also puts these talented artists in the limelight. Anyone can now buy their art and majority of the earnings go directly to the artists. It was time that these artists earned the respect they deserve.
LBB> How did you find the artists you are working with?
FB> A lot of these artists used to paint trucks from my grandfather's truck fleet. I befriended a couple of them during their painting sessions. I also attended workshops on building and painting trucks, where I met more artists. Most of the artists I met had a second job as well to cover up for the unstable painting job. I explained the idea of All India Permit to them and they showed keen interest in joining the initiative, and thus it began.
LBB> You work in advertising as a creative/designer - how has working with these truck artists inspired you in your own creativity?
FB> Seeing these artists paint without any inhibitions, choosing extravagant colour combinations and expressing their feelings directly on a metal canvas, is very inspiring. They are so passionate about their work that it shows in their confident brush strokes. I think not being scared of making mistakes is what inspires me the most when I see these artists paint.
LBB> You recently moved from India to the Netherlands - how have you found that experience?
FB> It's a move from one diverse country to the other. Completely different in terms of culture, art, people. Right now, I'm just absorbing the newness, visiting different places and finding inspiration wherever and whenever I can. The vibe here at DDB & Tribal Amsterdam has been very encouraging. It's a place full of talented people who really inspire you to do better every day.
And nothing says more about Netherlands than the birth of artists like Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and Rembrandt who were an influential part of the Dutch culture.