Pakistani Truck Artist Gives Kicks New Flair – Life & Style

KARACHI: Haider Ali dabs a brush with an iridescent splash of paint and gets to work on a pair of sparkling white sneakers – his latest canvas for a colorful carnival that celebrates Pakistani culture.

Pakistan’s trucks are known for “truck art”: candy-colored murals depicting South Asian animals, celebrities and religious icons.

Tradition transforms the highways and cities into kaleidoscopic processions.

And now Ali — a veteran truck artist — has transferred the painting to sneakers.

“A client came to me from the US and asked me to paint shoes,” he explained.

“I told him an exorbitant fee to discourage him, but he agreed, so I decided to move on.”

He works up to four days on each pair and charges select clients $400 for a set of bespoke patterns and motifs.

Since he began painting sneakers in January, he has shipped eight pairs – to locations in Pakistan and abroad – with new orders pouring in every four days following a spike in interest on social media.

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“I keep coming up with ideas,” muses the 42-year-old.

“It is human nature to adorn ourselves and the things around us.”

Sitting cross-legged in his rooftop studio in Karachi, he flips over a pair of high-top Nikes to reveal the image of a bright pink hawk and a staring yellow eye, framed by hypnotic bulbous fringes.

Another ready-to-ship pair features a shimmering peacock.

‘In the Zone’

Some say the practice of decorating trucks began in the 1940s when trucking companies crafted vibrant logos to convey their brand identities to a largely uneducated audience.

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Others claim that artistic supremacy began when bus drivers competed for passengers.

Today, trade is one of Pakistan’s most famous cultural exports, and belies the country’s stricter reputation for social conservatism.

Ali comes from a family of truck artists who made their living on the side of the road, where drivers eagerly donate small wage packets to decorate their vehicles.

As he strolls through Yusuf Goth’s truck yard, his tinted glasses and slight swagger lend him an air of celebrity.

“I come into the zone when I feel a connection to art,” he said. “When I stop, the ideas stop flowing.”

He rose to fame outside of Pakistan when his work was exhibited at the US Smithsonian Museum in 2002, which helped cement his reputation as an international ambassador for truck art.

He has applied his craft to an airplane, a VW Beetle and even a woman’s body at the Burning Man Festival in the United States.

Ali’s home office offers numerous benefits.

Tucked away from the noise of street courts, his fashion clients give him full creative freedom, unlike truck drivers who look over his shoulder.

But like trucks, the decoration on shoes doesn’t last forever.

After three or four years it will scuff, crack and fade – providing a fresh canvas for even more artwork.

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