I remember sitting on the porch at 125k/2 PECHS with nana and nani and watching the cars, buses, rickshaws, and trucks drive by. As a foreigner [I grew up in Bahrain before moving to America], these objects weren't common where I lived and I was fascinated by their bright colorful embellishments. They were painted in bright colors of intricate designs, hybrid animals, and imaginary landscapes that one could only fantasize about. The trucks were adorned with metal trinkets that jingled as they drove by. In fact, my cousins were humored by my fascination with these vehicles and often wondered why I took photos of them.
It's not everyday you see rickshaws or trucks like the ones in Pakistan in America or anywhere in the west, but imagine leaving your homeland and seeing an object from the other side of the world now easily accessible to you. I remember going to Lahore Tikka House in Toronto and taking pictures with the life size rickshaw they had imported from Pakistan. The joy it put on peoples faces and the pride that emulated in them was undeniable and I couldn’t believe that a rickshaw from the streets of Pakistan could do this. To people in Pakistan these things are merely everyday objects, but to us Pakistani immigrants in the west, the rickshaw is our connection to the home we left behind. Taking an everyday vehicle that blends into the landscape of one country, and then placing it in another country where it commands attention and curiosity, goes to show you how art functions differently when taken out of its usual context or culture.
In recent years, I have been even more fascinated by Truck Art and curious about it origins. But how I came upon it as a religious art form is a story that I like telling the most. Couple years ago I came across the book, Aura of Alif: The Art of Writing in Islam, at the Detroit Institute of Arts and ordered it online to learn more about Islamic calligraphy. This beautiful book focuses on why it is important to understand the writing of Islam foremost in order to understand the Muslim culture. As I read page by page, my culture and identity began to take shape in a way that I hadn’t appreciated before. When I arrived at the final chapter, I was surprised that it was dedicated to the Truck Art of Pakistan. I had never considered the trucks of Pakistan as art, let alone visual poetry that stems from Islamic calligraphy. As I read more about the meaning of the images and writing on these trucks and the relationship the drivers have with them, I came to understand why it's important to know the history, culture, religion, and linguistics of a language to fully understand why poets and artists write or paint the way they do.
The Truck Art form has now caught on in Pakistan and found its way onto other objects such as clothing, pottery, and buildings. It has been revived as a cultural phenomena and is celebrated as national art. This project, Truck Art meets Little Free Library, is a cultivation of a cultural art movement combined with a familiar object in Chicago neighborhoods. How I came up with the idea to bring Truck Art to Chicago began with an Art History assignment earlier this year for my class, Better Homes & Gardens. The Good Lookin’ assignment forced us to explore new areas of Chicago and be alert to the vernacular/outsider art around us. I was inspired by this library exchange box I found around my neighborhood and soon came to learn that Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that aims to end book deserts, increase literacy, and build stronger communities. These library exchange boxes are very common in Chicago and I’ve come across many in my time here. Here is the link to my Good Lookin’ assignment:
My professor, curator of Roger Brown Study Collection, Lisa Stone, encouraged me to pursue this even further for my final project. I told her I had been thinking about making a library box in the form of a traditional Pakistani Truck but wasn’t sure where I would install it. It was Lisa who suggested I consider Devon as a home for this object and look into how it could be used to activate public space for the youth. My final project consisted of a prototype for the box design along with a booklet of research I did on Truck Art, Little Free Library, and activating public space.
I spent the summer workshopping this idea in Thesis I and through interviews and conversations with my cohort, I have established a good sense of my main hypothesis and the parameters of what I plan to accomplish in the next couple of months. However, this idea is still evolving and being shaped by recent events and interviews I conduct along the way. Here is the work I did this past summer around my working thesis question and assumptions.