A Penn Professor Chronicles the Technicolor Trucks of Pakistan

The history of decorated trucks in Pakistan is long and colorful. In a land of more than 175 million people, nearly all goods are delivered by truck, and just about every truck has an array of ornate adornments and brightly painted images of religious scenes, families, movie stars and political sayings.

Jamal J. Elias, the world's foremost expert on Pakistani truck art, teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He is professor and chair of the University’s Religious Studies Department with a secondary appointment in the Department of South Asia Studies.  He has written a book on the decorated trucks, On Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity and Culture in Pakistan (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2011)

The American Institute of Pakistan Studies has selected On Wings of Diesel to receive its Best Senior Book Prize, in part for the depth and accuracy of the research, integration of Pakistan studies more fully into vibrant disciplinary and interdisciplinary discussions and clarity and elegance of writing.

Elias takes readers on a beautifully illustrated trip through Pakistan’s truck-decoration culture. The book includes interviews with short- and long-haul truckers who discuss their motivations for painting their vehicles and the symbolism of the images and materials used.  An accomplished amateur photographer, Elias illustrates the book with his own photographic work, beautiful images of the "mechanical dinosaurs adorned in full courtship colors."

Elias told SAS Frontiers, a magazine of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, that the book is about “Pakistani society, its class structure, the aspirations of various people, education, economics, religion certainly, all viewed through this window of truck decoration.”

The SAS Frontiers video slideshow of Elias' decorated truck photos and his accompanying narration is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9BfDSFmL1o