KARACHI: In Pakistan, where traditional truck art adds color and humor to the landscape of roads, another unique but little-known form of ornamentation has emerged on its coast: boat art, which lends beauty to fishing boats sailing the Arabian Sea.
According to Muhammad Ali Shah, chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), most of the 15,000 fishing vessels sailing along the 350-kilometer coastline of Sindh province are decorated, but the local craft has yet to be recognized as art.
While it is difficult to establish when the tradition of painting boats with floral and marine patterns began, artists in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi say it emerged in Ibrahim Hyderi, a fishing village in Korangi district of Pakistan’s seaside metropolis, Karachi. A known figure, who some say is a pioneer, is Abdul Aziz, who has been painting boats for 50 years.
“My father used to paint boats for decades, and now I’ve taught the craft to my sons and apprentices,” the artist, affectionately called Ustad Aziz, told Arab News.
He learnt to paint when he was 12 and since then boat art has been his source of livelihood.
“The art of painting fishing boats started in Ibrahim Hyderi area, following which other fishermen communities also adopted the art,” said Shoaib Ali, one of Aziz’s pupils.
Colors and designs are traditionally similar, but “some patterns act as geographical markers of their point of origin,” Ali said. A trained eye will be able to distinguish which vessels come from Ibrahim Hyderi, and which from other nearby regions such as Keti Bandar, Gharochan, Badin and Somiani.
Filmmaker and artist Sharjil Baloch said while truck art could be found in Pakistan, India and around the world, boat art was a uniquely Pakistani tradition.
Indian boats are simple, he said, and only used basic matte coating to protect the wood from the impact of climate and water.
At first glance similar to truck art, boat art, Baloch said, was quite distinctive: “The shape of a boat is different, so the template is automatically different. Then you see truck art with landscapes, but here you’ll see seascapes.”
He added: “The way they decorate them, make detailed designs gives them their own identity.”
Jatin Desai, an Indian journalist and activist who has been working with fishermen, also said boat art was unknown in India.
“Be it from Gujarat or elsewhere in the country,” he said, “there is no artwork on Indian fishing boats.”