Samar Minallah’s truck art work wins Commonwealth honour

Jamila Achakzai
Sunday, Oct 17, 2021

Islamabad: Anthropologist Samar Minallah Khan has won the Commonwealth Innovation Award for successfully using truck art to highlight social issues in the country, especially the denial of rights to women and children.

“Our fleet of trucks travelled from one end of Pakistan to the other, displaying messages about the fundamental rights of the girls, especially their right to education, inheritance and protection,” Samar told ‘The News’.

According to her, she is one of the 15 people from Commonwealth countries, who received the honour for coming up with innovative solutions to pressing development challenges. The winning innovations fell into five thematic areas reflecting the pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals, including people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships.

Samar, who has pioneered the use of truck art to bring attention to social issues in the country, said she, leading a team of truck artists and truckers, designed and replaced conventional truck images of men with those of empowered girls receiving education. She said the trucks travelled across and reached remote areas of the country, so they served as moving billboards.

“Our billboards on wheels with messages and images drawn from local culture and traditions are helping change mindsets and promote the empowerment of girls and women in remote parts of Pakistan,” she said.

Samar said she integrated culture and indigenous folk art, film and folk music to create culturally relevant interventions that resonated with the local audiences.

“Through these innovative tools of storytelling, I have raised public awareness of harmful cultural practices, including compensation marriages. I want to continue using these tools to spread awareness and change mindset,” she said. According to the anthropologist, who is also a noted filmmaker, art has the power to connect and educate people in an innovative way.

She said raising awareness was the first step to start localising SDGs.

“If done in collaboration with the local communities, the message and the information will be owned by the audiences that matter. I'll continue creating innovative and culturally-relevant work that is sustainable,” she said.

Samar said she first used truck art in 2003 to spread messages against swara (practice of compensation marriages) and after observing its effectiveness and impact on the targeted community, 19 similar projects were initiated on female literacy and missing children. She even moved the Supreme Court with the first public interest litigation against compensation marriages and illegal jirga rulings, and thus, getting swara outlawed in 2004.

“Our campaign is meant to preserve this indigenous form of art while replacing the images of celebrities with empowered girls and thought-provoking messages for the women’s rights,” she said.

Samar has also used storytelling to highlight unsung heroes in rural communities, especially men, who stand up against harmful cultural norms and protect the fundamental rights of their daughters. Focusing primarily on local audiences, her documentaries and truck art work have been translated into several regional languages for wider audiences.

Advocacy won Samar’s truck art work many international awards, including Cannes, Golden Cube at the ADC Annual Awards, New York, London International Award, and Clio Award.