“We are in the presence of royalty,” Abigail Adams Greenway announces as we walk into the Chevy Chase house where Ghulam Sarwar is working.
Sarwar is a “truck artist” from the Khyber Pass region of Pakistan, a member of the Pashtun tribe. He has been making the rounds in Bethesda over the past few weeks, painting local resident’s doors, cars and even the inside of an elevator.
The 63-year-old has been painting for more than 40 years, starting with film posters in Pakistan and moving on to the larger canvases of trucks and cars. Truck art is unique to the rolling hills of the Himalayans. All the public transportation in Pakistan and Afghanistan is painted in this manner.
Sarwar attracted attention in the United States when he exhibited at the 2009 Santa Fe International Folk Arts Festival. But Greenway, an artist herself, didn’t discover his work until she went to Eastern Market, where a merchant was selling Sarwar's hand-painted furniture. Sarwar's home in Pakistan had been swept away in the floods and he was trying to raise money for his family.
"I saw from a distance this beautiful design and I was amazed,” Greenway says. “I loved it."
After collecting many pieces of Sarwar's art, Adams Greenway had an idea. She had experienced chronic, debilitating pain three years earlier that robbed her of one of her many enjoyments: driving. When the pain was assuaged early this year, she decided to get a car. The only one she found that was comfortable was the Kia Soul. "Soul is a synonym for God" and therefore it was meant to be, she says.
She thought of having Sarwar paint the vehicle as "the last part of my healing. So I could sit in the vibration of his work."
Sarwar stayed with Greenway for 10 days to complete a masterpiece that is now a rolling promotion for his work.
"This is the message from the mountains. It is an expression of the soul and warmth," Sarwar says through a translator. "People generally see the Pakistani people as these violent terrorists, but they have a lot of warmth in their lives. I want to share love and peace."
Love and peace is what Sarwar has brought to many Bethesda area residents, including Seth Goldman at Honest Tea. Sarwar not only painted the front door to the Honest Tea offices in Bethesda, but also the car of Goldman’s wife, Julie Farkas.
In addition, Sarwar's work adorns the front door of Malini Jadeja's home on Dorset Avenue and Linda Potter's elevator at her home, both in Chevy Chase.
Sarwar will return to Pakistan on Nov. 7 to visit his three sons and daughters. He says that if he didn’t have family there, he would stay in the United States. The women he has met here are "like my sisters," he says.
Sarwar's work can be purchased at http://empressofindiaco.com/id79.html.