From truck art to puppet craft

Anwar, a truck artist, has found his calling in a puppetry museum.

Sonia Malik November 20, 2010

LAHORE: In a small circular building behind Rafi Peer cultural complex off Raiwind Road, Muhammad Anwar stands bent over a table, his face daubed with white, red and black paint, putting the finishing touches to pieces of pottery.

Masks painted turquoise and red and other bright colours hang on the walls and aluminium tea sets sit on three shelves, inviting visitors from outside to come in and appreciate Anwar’s unique concoction of truck art and traditional architectural frescos.

Trucks are one of the most common media for art in Pakistan, and Anwar was one of its finest practitioners. He used to make Rs4,000 a piece painting trucks at four workshops in Lahore. But when Anwar, a father of six, was approached by Rafi Peer a couple of years ago, he could not refuse their offer to settle in this workshop-cum-souvenir store at Peeru’s Cafe.

“Painting trucks in a climate as harsh as Lahore’s is tough,” says Anwar. “One has to sit and work outside, be it under the rain or the scorching June sun. Here, I have an environment which is comfortable and I’m paid a fixed salary, thus making it easier to support my family.”

Anwar says he does not want any of his six children to adopt the same profession. “I help them with their arts homework. But I want them to go abroad for further studies and establish themselves,” he says.

Ironically, Anwar’s interest in painting, he says, came from his father, a graffiti artist. “By the age of 10, I considered myself a graffiti designer. I would practise on the walls and on paper. I quit school at age 13 to become a full-time painter.”

He worked for 12 years in Dubai painting and decorating walls, before returning to Pakistan in the early 2000s to take up truck art. Now he is settled in this small shop, painting and tending to customers from when the store opens at 9 am until it closes in the evening.

As a customer enters, Anwar rises from his chair to show him around. He sometimes gets appreciative visitors from abroad. Norway’s ambassador to Pakistan invited Anwar to exhibit his pieces in Oslo.

He shows me around the puppetry museum, pointing out pieces he has worked on at his employers’ request, like six carved and painted television sets housing puppets. His relationship with them is one of trust and loyalty, he says.

“I believe in sharing my earnings with my employers,” he says. “Money has a role in motivating one to work, but the respect and adoration I’ve got during my two years with Rafi Peer is overwhelming. It gives me immense joy and motivation to paint every day.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2010.