Haider Ali dips his brush in a drop of iridescent paint, then sketches the first patterns on a pair of immaculate white trainers, and fades into an abundance of colors a new variant of an art typical of Pakistani culture.
Pakistan is known for its exuberant “truck art”, which consists of decorating trucks with illustrations in bright and colorful colors, depicting animals, gods, floral or religious motifs, decorated with various calligraphy.
This traditional art transforms Pakistani highways and cities into a kaleidoscope of shimmering colors.
Haider Ali, one of the Pakistani virtuosos of ‘truck art’, has now decided to translate it on sneakers.
“A client from the United States came to ask me to paint shoes,” he told AFP at his studio in the port city of Karachi (south).
“I gave him an exorbitant price to discourage him, but he said okay. So I decided to do it,” he adds.
It takes him up to four days of meticulous work for shoes that are dyed to customers’ liking, hand-picked, and paid $400 per pair.
Since he started this activity in January, he has already produced eight pairs, sold in Pakistan and abroad. And the orders keep coming, influenced by social networks.
“I keep coming up with new ideas,” says the 42-year-old painter. “It is human nature to adorn ourselves (the body) and the things around us.”
Sitting cross-legged in his rooftop studio, he brandishes a pair of high-top Nikes, revealing a sparkly pink falcon above a staring yellow eye, rimmed with hypnotic rounded edges.
Another pair, ready to ship, has a peacock with glitter.
– Creative freedom –
Some believe that “truck art” originated in the 1940s, when truck drivers began creating flashy logos to advertise brands to a largely illiterate audience.
Others argue that the color escalation started with bus drivers’ efforts to attract new passengers.
Today, “truck art” is one of the most exported aspects of Pakistani culture, in contrast to the country’s rather austere reputation for social conservatism.
Haider Ali herself comes from a family of ‘truck artists’, who barely made a living decorating trucks on the side of the road.
As he strolls through a truck parking lot in Karachi’s Yusuf Goth neighborhood, he looks like a celebrity with sunglasses and slightly bulging chest.
“When I feel connected to my art, I am intensely focused,” he says. “When I take a break, the ideas stop flowing.”
Haider Ali rose to fame outside his country with a 2002 exhibit for the Smithsonian museum in Washington, and became an international ambassador of truck art.
He has since applied his art to an airplane, a Volkswagen Beetle and even a woman’s body at a festival in the United States.
His talent guarantees him that he no longer has to live in the noise of the roadsides and the complete creative freedom of his customers.
But as with the trucks, the decoration only stays on the shoes for a while. After a few years it will crack and fade, forming a brand new canvas for a new work of art.