Photocopies of the Real Thing

Masha Allah in Goosebumps font

Haider Ali smokes a cigarette as he guides me through the narrow streets in Karachi’s downtown Garden market. We pass thousands of assembled and decorated trucks. He gestures to stalls where drivers can choose any number of attachments for their long-haul trucks, nearly all made by hand with hammered metal, paint, and adhesive decal sheets.

Ali, one of the most famous truck art painters in Pakistan, is the living embodiment of the rise of truck art from a lowly craft to a known art form.

Since coming back to Pakistan a few years ago, I’ve observed that a lot of the Midwest pop culture I grew up with is replicated here, but with a developing world twist.

One manifestation is car decals, which have become ubiquitous in Pakistan. In the Midwest, most families have decals on their cars — stickers with their university logos or even stick figures of their family. Here, car decals display family or caste names and a “Mashallah” or “Allahu Akbar” for good measure. The decals are in fonts you can’t ignore — like the drippy Goosebumps font — and come in unique phrases like “Meri Jaan” (my heart) or “I am married please don’t disturb me.”

Images also recur in familiar patterns. There’s a hooded figure throwing up two gang signs, an odd-looking baby wearing a top hat crawling towards the viewer, the Playboy bunny, or No Fear eyes (the one from the 90s-streetwear brand). All are examples of how images morph from their original intentions into something entirely different. Then there’s religious

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