Truck art comes to life in documentary screening at UF

“Horn Please,” a documentary about Indian truck art directed by UF graduated student Shantanu Suman, screens at 6 p.m. Friday in Fine Arts Building B. An art exhibition including works by Suman opens at University Gallery on Friday with a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. (Courtesy of Shantanu Suman)

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 18, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.

In India, one of the most ornate, colorful art forms isn't housed inside museum walls — it's out on the open road. Truck art, which features religious deities, political symbols and ornate typography hand-painted on the front, sides and backs of trucks, is the subject of the documentary “Horn Please,” which will be screened Friday in the University of Florida's Fine Arts Building B. It also will be shown April 14 at the Harn Museum of Art.


‘Horn Please’ screenings

What: Documentary about truck art in India
Friday: 6 p.m. in Room 105, Fine Arts Building B, UF campus
April 14: 1:30 p.m. in Chandler Auditorium, Harn Museum of Art, 3259 Hull Road
Cost: Free

‘Horn Please’ exhibition
What: Exhibition by director Shantanu Suman, part of the 2013 Masters of Fine Arts Degree Candidates Exhibition
When: Reception 7-9 p.m. Friday, exhibition continues through March 29
Where: University Gallery, 400 SW 13th St.
Cost: Free

Shantanu Suman, a MFA candidate in UF's graphic design program, created the 30-minute documentary. Following the screening, an exhibition that includes a truck opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Friday in the University Gallery. Suman says his documentary is the first to cover the art form, which started in the post-war era when a surplus of army trucks was re-purposed for highway transport.

“It's a very rich art form which hasn't been given full credit,” he says. “I was surprised to find there was this art form that's never been documented.”

Truck painters use paintbrushes, spray paints and a palette of bright hues to create art pieces that reflect the personalities of the truck's driver and owner. Common archetypes include the lotus flower, which is a symbol of communion with God, and the Taj Mahal, the peacock and the tiger, which reflect national pride. Truck painters often design their own fonts when painting religious couplets and the ever-present phrase “Horn Please,” which advises those driving behind trucks to signal before passing.

“When a painter paints a truck, he will sign his name in the corner like a traditional painter. This is his art,” Suman says.

Last summer, Suman and partners Istling Mirche and Shreedavy Babuji spent 45 days in India researching truck art. Their travels included nine-hour days at workshops documenting the painting process, 14-hour bus trips to workshops only to find the painter they were searching for was elsewhere, and a never-ending struggle to find charging outlets for their camera equipment.

“When I think about this journey, I think, ‘How did I even do this?'” he says.

The research paid off, and Suman says he's glad this art form has been documented before it becomes a thing of the past. In recent years, a burgeoning sticker and decal industry has threatened the job security of truck painters, whose handiwork costs more than these pre-made designs.

“My job was to be a storyteller,” he says. “We need to tell the story of what's happening with the truck painters. This is undergoing major transformation, so it needs to be documented now.”

Suman says he hopes his documentary will shed light on an art form so pervasive that its viewers may not take notice.

“Truck art is everywhere and it's become a blind spot for Indians,” he says. “Sometimes, if you have a precious thing, you don't notice it unless someone outside tells you it's precious.”

Suman grew up in a small town in central India, and he says he hopes American audiences will gain a better understanding of Indian art and culture after seeing his documentary.

“There's so much more to India than the Taj Mahal and Gandhi,” he says. “This is my way of expressing gratitude for this art form.”

A second screening of “Horn Pleased” is planned April 14 at 1:30 p.m. in the Chandler Auditorium at the Harn Museum of Art.

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