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Pakistani artists bring message of peace through ‘truck art’ painted on trolley at Taste of Amherst

  • Haider Ali, the CEO and Head Truck Artist with Phool Patti, out of Pakistan, paint an Amherst BID trolley on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, as part of project where it will be displayed at the Taste of Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ali Salman Anchan, the founder and creative director with Phool Patti, out of Pakistan, paint an Amherst BID trolley on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, as part of project where it will be displayed at the Taste of Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Haider Ali, the CEO and Head Truck Artist with Phool Patti, out of Pakistan, paint an Amherst BID trolley on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, as part of project where it will be displayed at the Taste of Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer 
Thursday, June 14, 2018

AMHERST — Two Pakistani artists on a mission to bring a message of peace, love, harmony and respect across the globe using the traditional art of truck painting rolled into Amherst this week.

A trolley adorned by Ali Salman Anchan and Haider Ali with brightly colored depictions of horses, sunsets and flowers were inspired by the farmland scenery of the town and will be on display at this weekend’s Taste of Amherst, which began today and runs through Sunday.

As part of a tour that has brought the pair of artists through Europe and now the United States, Anchan and Ali spent the past week decorating the trolley in the Pakistani custom of truck art.

“This is a traditional artform, but in this artform, you can incorporate anything you want,” Anchan said. “Whatever you think, whatever you fantasize, you can incorporate with this art. We are here with a message of peace and harmony to show your town this is our art.”

A horse farm across from Hampshire College, sunsets bleeding red and orange, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus pond are but a few of the many vibrant images painted by the artists, who founded the art collective, Phool Patti, in their home country in 2010. Both Anchan, 35, and Ali, 38, are from Karachi, Pakistan.

The shimmering, dazzling colors bring happiness to commuters in Pakistan, according Anchan. Additionally, inscribed on the backs of trucks are “humor based poetry” that can bring a smile to other drivers.

“The colors can refresh them and give them more energy,” Anchan said. “We use all the bright colors to make you more happy, more energetic, more refreshed. We use a lot of poetry and when you are driving it will bring a smile.”

The 1989 diesel trolley was supplied by the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID), who is co-presenting the Taste of Amherst with the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce. The trolley, originally from the Philadelphia Trolley Company, is normally used to shuttle parents and UMass Amherst students during new student orientations, family weekends and other special events.

The trolley has become a rolling work of art and discussions at BID are underway as to the possibility of using it as an arts and music mini-venue, as this trolley has a back porch. It will also continue to run on an as-needed basis for special events and programs.

Ali said this native art form of Pakistan can be traced back to thousands of years ago when horse carts were painted and decorated.

“Truck art” is the western term for this unique practice. “Phool patti,” which literally translates to “flower petal,” has practically become synonymous to truck art. But even “truck art” can be misleading, as boats, ships, and other modes of transportation have been painted as part of the cultural tradition.

But, for the sake of simplicity, truck art is used.

“This is in our blood to paint our vehicles and make them beautiful,” Anchan said. “When carts were replaced with cars and trucks, our art shifted.”

Anchan and Ali left Pakistan in April for a tour of Europe that included visits to Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria, and Iceland for truck painting endeavors, and for vacation, too.

They continued on to Boston and Providence before traveling to Amherst for the first time. The duo was asked to visit Amherst and paint the trolley at no cost by Kenneth LeBlond, who works at the UMass Donahue Institute.

Ali had his first exposure to America back in 2002. A University of Wisconsin professor had met him while painting a truck in Pakistan and, enamoured with the art he saw, the professor invited Ali to the United States whereupon he painted a truck as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.

That was the first authentic Pakistani truck art in North America and that exposure “opened the door” for Ali and other truck artists.

“There has been a very nice response from America for the trucks and everyone really appreciates them,” said Ali. “We’ve been all over the world but America is like a second home. The response is always overwhelming.”

Their tour will continue on to the upcoming Smithsonian Folklife Festival where Ali will be reunited with the truck he painted in 2002. From there they will continue onto Texas before heading back to Pakistan for some much needed rest and relaxation.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.