For the past three years, Professor of Religion Jamal J. Elias has been conducting research on vehicular art in Pakistan as part of a larger academic project—and eventually a book—on the poetics of Islamic art. Last winter his research was funded by a grant from Amherst College.
"I would argue that religious images, even at their least denotative, or most abstract, are images nonetheless; they are perceived, and—to paraphrase Paul Ricoeur—perception gives rise to symbols, and symbols give rise to thought and response. Built into the symbol, as a perceptual metaphor, is the capacity to pattern responses concerning how the individual relates to the world or to the divine. Thus the symbols used in truck decoration in particular (and vehicle decoration in general), even when they are not consciously representative of a particular religious message, are still shaped by a notion of the religious place of the individual, by a religious worldview, and they still elicit responses that are framed within the parameters of that worldview. That these religious symbols are pictorial, and that the religious responses are elicited by pictorial representation, raises many questions about the nature and role of religious art in Pakistan, which views itself as resolutely lacking pictorial religious art."
His article and research is key for my project as this is more proof of my notion that theres a lot more to the "Truck art of Pakistan" than meets the eye. Each motif, pattern, scene represents a story or a belief.
I also received a reply from him:
Dear Ms. Omar:
I'm glad you liked that article. I have a couple of more serious articles on trucks and their symbolism, the most recent one in the journal Material Religion (volume 1). If you'd like to read it, I'd be happy to send you a pdf version. I also have a book on trucks coming out next year (I hope) from Oneworld Publications, Oxford, UK.
Generally, though, there isn't much on the symbolism.
Jamal J. Elias