Pakistanis Revive ‘Boat Art’

In Pakistan, where traditional truck art adds color and humor to highways and roads, another unique form of ornamentation has emerged on the country’s coast — boat art, which lends beauty to fishing boats sailing the Arabian Sea.

According to Muhammad Ali Shah, chairman of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, most of the 15,000 fishing vessels on the 350-kilometer coastline of Sindh province are decorated, but the local craft has yet to be acknowledged as art.

The origins of boat art — painting vessels with floral and marine patterns — are difficult to pinpoint, but artists in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi say the practice began in Ibrahim Hyderi, a fishing village in the Qur’angi district.

Some say that one man, Abdul Aziz, who has been painting boats for 50 years, pioneered the art form.

“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.

Aziz learned 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, then other fishing communities also adopted it,” 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 can distinguish vessels from Ibrahim Hyderi, or from nearby regions such as Keti Bandar, Gharochan, Badin and Somiani.

Filmmaker and artist Sharjil Baloch said that while truck art also can be found in India and around the world, boat art is a uniquely Pakistani tradition.

Indian boats are simple and use only a basic matte coating to protect the wood from the climate and water, he said.

Boat art might appear similar to truck art at first glance, Baloch said, but it is actually 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 and 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.

In Gujarat or elsewhere in the country, “there is no artwork on Indian fishing boats,” he said.

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