When The Beatles came back from their famous trip to India, they brought back a certain “psychedelic” sensibility. You can here the psychedelia in many of their songs, especially in sitar-heavy songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver. But John, Paul, George, and Ringo didn’t just bring Indian music back from India. If you look at their art and the colourful trucks that run up and down India’s highways, they brought it back in their visual sensibilities.
Truck art in India looks like something that flew straight out of a drive-in viewing of Alice in Wonderland at a hippy colony. The bright, swirling colours give them an immediately recognizable, and certainly memorable, feel. Now, this art style is receiving a full documentary, one that explores the history, impact, and importance of truck art in India. Called Horn Please after the sign on the back of trucks telling people to honk their horn before trying to overtake, the documentary is a celebration and meditation on India’s colourful trucks.
The documentary’s directors, Shantanu Suman and Istling Mirche, have a lot of ground to cover in the thirty minute documentary. Truck art has been around for almost as long as vehicles have been in India, and the work carries with it any number of important messages. As the documentarians point out, the art is about Indian culture and religion, but it’s also about the people driving the trucks themselves. It’s not just a chance for some brightly-coloured self-expression, although that is part of it, it’s also a chance to connect to their clients and customers.
For the street artist and mural enthusiast, Horn Please not only offers a glimpse into the people behind Indian Truck Art, it also provides a space to think about commercialism, capitalism, and the place art needs to occupy in society, but does so with a focus on a country who’s economic development and sustainability is very different from the Western world. Indian truck art is definitively Indian, drawing inspiration from Indian culture, religion, and iconography, but many of the art’s motivations remain strikingly similar: the need for expression, the desire for exposure, and simply the will to advertise oneself in a definitive and memorable way.
While countries like Canada and the United States have made their street art immobile, India’s roams the streets and provides a necessary function beyond the paint jobs. Trucks are a lifeblood for many places around the world, and for Indian truck art, you can transport more than just goods in a psychedelic and very groovy truck.
Horn Please is available online and is a must-watch for anyone interested in public art from a completely different perspective.