Sohail’s Reflection on Salam Mobile

This project has been a labor of love,.. but not only by me …… so I can’t take ALL the credit for it – ……. however, I’ll save my thank you and important recognitions for the end, …once I have given you all a bit more context as to what exactly this project had involved.

The concept of SalamMobile came about early this year, with a simple brief to paint a car in a traditional Pakistani Truck art style as part of the SalamFest activities. Initially, we were expecting a Pakistani truck art artist visiting Sydney during the Parramasala festival to work on SalamMobile when he comes to Melbourne for a 2-3 day short visit. Somehow…as fate would have it, the Melbourne part of the project could not be realised and I ended up committing to the project and as they say….. the rest his history.

Cumulatively so far nearly 600 hours have been spent on the project and I expect that by the time we finish, ‘WE’ as a team would have spent close to 1000 hours on this project.

Now for those of you, who are uninitiated in ‘Pakistani Truck Art’, the tradition of decorating ‘transport carriages’ in the sub-continent can be traced back a hundred plus years. However, the restrained version of “truck art” first appeared in the subcontinent in the early 1940s when Sikh Lorry drivers started painting their trucks with the portrait of their Gurus for good luck.

After the partition in 1947, truck decorations in Pakistan evolved further, initially with the introduction of religious symbols and calligraphy followed by political slogans and then in the 1970s as full-fledged ‘pop art’ movement where the images and calligraphy started engulfing the whole vehicle.

Today, ‘truck art’ is an established art genre in Pakistan and has evolved beyond the trucks into furniture, fashion and pretty much everything or anything which is paintable. SalamMobile takes its inspiration from ‘truck art’.

We have nicked named SalamMobile ‘Rumi’, and NO!, for the youngsters that’s not a tribute to Beyonce’s newborn son, but rather, named after the great 13th century Poet, Sufi mystic and scholar Maulana Jalal-ud-din Rumi.

While the SalamMobile- Rumi…is based on ‘truck art style painting’, the design transcends beyond mere visual aesthetics which is a hallmark of truck art, to a role of a Dastaango or a storyteller.

The intent is not only to focus on the Australian Muslim story but also to use the symbology to narrate the story of all people who now call Australia home and to recognise that the world is a global village and empathy for others is fundamental for not only coexistence in this village but for the village as a whole to thrive.

Rumi’s thoughts and practice revolved around humanity, love, compassion, acceptance, and respect for others and their beliefs. And as such, Love, Peace and Compassion are the cornerstones of SalamFest and guiding principle of the graphic designs on SalamMobile.

All motifs and designs on the car represent a theme or narrate a story. The objective of the images is to intrigue the viewer and entice them to explore the subject matter further………. courtesy of Dr. Google.

We are naturally afraid of the unknown, but by education, we develop an understanding, and therefore, that fear is removed. I believe we would have made our mark, if 10% percent of the people who see Rumi, take the time out to understand and explore what it represents.

In this sense, the car design follows the teachings of Maulana Rumi. Just as he tried to create an atmosphere of dialogue and tolerance through his writing and poetry, the intention of the imagery is to initiate a conversation.

Just as they do in traditional Islamic art, geometrical patterns and floral motifs play an important part in the car design. The car’s graphic motifs and floral patterns are selected from all over the Muslim world. Where floral patterns were desired, I have selected images of national flowers of various countries belonging to the Islamic world such as Iran, Turkey, Bangladesh, Brunei and others.

The panels of the car make artistic references to many different cultures, for example:

  • There is an image of a Malaysian crescent shape kite;
  • The patterns of Palestinian headgear kaa-fi-ya;
  • Patterns from Kaleem which is a flat tapestry rugs produced in countries from the Balkansto Pakistan;
  • Motifs from famous Turkish Iznik pottery which combines the designs of traditional blue and white Chinese porcelain images with Ottoman arabesque patterns as well as
  • Images of brightly colored African textile prints

We also have a series of sceneries and images which showcase the immigration story and how people at times leave their homeland to seek better and brighter futures for their families. There is an affirmation of belonging to this country with slogans such as “Home Is here “ and “Australian” around the indicator lights. On the car roof, they are images of four whirling dervishes with quotes from Rumi.

On other panels, we narrate the Australian Muslim story, with the images of the Indonesian moccasin boats and cameleers who were the first Muslims to have interactions with the indigenous community.

As a tribute to the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we live, we have assigned Brooke Wandin, an Wurundjeri educator, who visits schools and talk about local Aboriginal history and culture. Similarly, there is a panel design based on Arabic script, which is a language shared amongst Muslims of all countries. In short, each design element has something to offer and presents something to explore and discover.

There’s a large amount of space that needs to be covered when attempting to paint an entire car, so some acknowledgement and gratitude are in order to the contributing artists who have helped make this project possible.

A massive thank you to Anushe Khan, Jamil Khateeb, my wife Lubna, Shagufta Yamin, Brooke Wandin and Shanaz Akhtar. I’d also like to thank our videographer friends Main Shahbaz and Basit Javed who have been assisting the team in recording and promoting SalamFest event. Your efforts to spend your weekends in my sub-zero garage in the middle of winter are greatly appreciated.

As the work on the car is still ongoing, I am hoping that there will be a few other artists that will come forward and make this piece a thoroughly collaborative effort.

Once completed the car will be displayed in various prominent places prior to the main event in November. We will also be initiating a ‘Selfie with Rumi ‘ campaign with the intent for the viewer to take a Selfie with the car and post it on their social media pages.

Rumi, the poet, emerged in a time of social and political turmoil, not too dissimilar to what we face today. I personally believe that some of the anarchy in today’s world can be eliminated if we learn to understand and appreciate the differences amongst us.

Rumi recognised that the world was a global village and empathy was fundamental for coexistence in this village. His influence transcends national borders, varying languages and ethnic divisions, and thus he provides the inspiration for SalaamMobile – with the hope that we can also achieve the same.

All in all ..there is a lot being put on the table with the car design, I hope that people will appreciate the effort and come and visit us at the Festival of Peace on November 24th, 25th, and 26th at the State Library of Victoria.

Peace be with you all….. Wasalaam. (PEACE)