Pakistani Truck Artist Gives Colorful Image Sneakers

Truck artist Haider Ali works on a pair of sneakers in his studio in Karachi on February 28. AFP

Haider Ali dabs a paintbrush with a drop of iridescent paint and gets to work on a pair of sparkling white sneakers – his latest canvas for a carnival of color celebrating Pakistani culture.

Pakistani trucks are famous for “truck art”: candy-colored murals of South Asian animals, celebrities and religious icons.

Tradition transforms highways and cities into kaleidoscopic processions.

And now Ali, a seasoned truck artist, has transposed the paint onto sneakers.

“A client came to me from the United States asking me to paint shoes,” he explained.

“I told him exorbitant fees to discourage him but he agreed, so I decided to continue.”

He works on each pair for up to four days, charging some customers $400 for a set that features custom patterns and designs.

Since he started painting sneakers in January, he has sent eight pairs – to Pakistan and abroad – with new orders arriving every four days after renewed interest on social media.

“Ideas keep coming to me,” said the 42-year-old.

“It’s human nature to decorate ourselves and the things around us.”

Legs crossed in his Karachi rooftop studio, he flips a pair of high-top Nikes to reveal an image of a bright pink hawk and staring yellow eye, framed by mesmerizing bulbous bangs.

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Artist Haider Ali (left) works on a truck at a workshop in Karachi on February 28. AFP

Another pair ready to ship features a sparkly peacock.

‘In the zone’

Some say the practice of truck decorating began in the 1940s when carriers created dynamic logos that communicated their brand identity to a largely illiterate audience.

Others claim that artistic one-upmanship began with bus drivers competing to attract passengers.

Today, trade is one of Pakistan’s most famous cultural exports, going against the country’s more austere reputation for social conservatism.

Ali comes from a family of truck artists, who made their living in roadside yards where drivers eagerly hand over meager pay packets to decorate their vehicles.

Strolling through Yusuf Goth’s truck yard, his tinted glasses and swagger make him look like a celebrity.

“I enter the zone when I feel a connection to art,” he said. “If I take a break, the ideas stop flowing.”

He rose to fame outside Pakistan when his work was exhibited at the US Smithsonian Museum in 2002, helping him establish a reputation as an international ambassador of truck art.

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

Ali’s craft offers many advantages. He’s tucked away from the din of roadside construction sites, and his fashion clients give him complete creative freedom, unlike the truckers who look over his shoulder.

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

After three or four years it will chafe, crack and fade, providing a new canvas for even more artwork.

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