Icons recast: Meet the artist breathing life into the Indus Valley – art and culture


Ancient statues from the Indus Valley Civilisation have been reanimated in a new series of art works by a young illustrator from Mumbai, being showcased by the animation studio Vaanarsena.

In the digital recreations by Nikhil Shinde, 28, a 5,000-year-old fertility goddess, a royal priest, a mother goddess and Harappa’s renowned dancing girl come alive. The dancing girl even gets her feet back, and on her ankles are elaborate ghungroos.

“The idea used to be not to change or modernise any of these characters but to offer accurate, artistic depictions,” says Shinde, an illustrator with an ad agency by day.

His reference point used to be the book 5,000 Years of Indian Art by Sushma Bahl, which catalogues Indian art through the millennia. He puts jewellery where the jewellery used to be, poses and expressions remain true to form, ornaments as near to the original pieces as imaginable.

“I tried to transport myself to that period, and put myself in the place of the artist,” says Shinde. “I wanted to see what they will have to have been seeing and draw it in my style.”

This recreation is of the bust of a priest king as depicted in a 4,000-year old stone bust from Mohenjo-daro, one of the most few stone sculptures found around the Indus.
Courtesy: Vaanarsena Studios

But where the antique sculptures are timeworn shapes in terracotta, steatite or bronze, Shinde’s pieces bear the glint and polished finish of 21st-century digital art. And where the sculptures were broken and damaged, Shinde takes the liberty of offering his own finishing touches.

Vaanarsena Studios has posted the series on Instagram (@vaanarsenastudios), with images of Shinde’s reference sculptures from the book, and a brief note on every.

The studio is focused on telling stories from the ancient literature of the Indian subcontinent and, over three years, has produced short lively retellings of tales from Indian mythology, starting with that of the vaanar sena or monkey army that helped Ram rescue Sita from Lanka. There’s also a retelling of the story of Durga, the goddess of war, and a Stories in Progress series where studio founder Vivek Ram works on panels of art and narrates the corresponding story.

“We’re building a portfolio to be able to making feature-length animations one day. The next move is exploring Indian history and finding the stories to tell there,” says Ram, who runs the studio with three other animators and volunteer artists like Shinde. “Shinde’s artwork is a fascinating segue into the animation world, where we soon hope to be making lively movies on Indian history.”

In the meanwhile, Vaanarsena Studios challenged its 61,000-odd followers to re-draw Shinde’s pieces in their own styles, and have received approximately 40 submissions, ranging from pencil sketches and water colours to collages and digital recreations.

What’s next? Figuring out the steps to make the dancing girl, dance.

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