Looking at Faceless Characters

Created: Thursday, August 22, 2013, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 3:36 pm

Updated: at



Pictures of faceless characters have been always used in presentation slides or even elsewhere for precisely one reason — and that’s to show a neutral person who could belong to any continent on this planet. This person could also be either male or female, a child or a senior person — it does not matter. At its very basic level, this faceless character represents the common human.

However, such faceless representation of living beings did not start with human forms — it actually started with animal life.

Let’s go way back in history to learn more. You’ll find faceless characters used in animal forms in the cave paintings of the paleolithic age, such as those found in Lascaux, France. The strange part is that these paintings show no human forms, although they were certainly created by human hands! Also important is the fact that most of these figures drawn are silhouette like (see figure below), with no distinct facial features — so yes indeed, these are certainly faceless characters.

Lascaux
A painting of the Giant Deer from Lascaux
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Next, let’s explore the seals found by archaeologists from the Indus Valley civilization — this civilization dates back to 3300 BC. Most of these seals show animal forms without any real facial features — see the figure of an elephant below. This figure is again silhouette-like in appearance and can be termed as a faceless character!

Indus Valley Seals
Elephant Seal, Indus valley civilization
Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, something changed in the way art forms were represented during the Indus Valley civilization — some of the seals found depict human forms as well! But there was a similarity in the way animal and human forms were depicted in these seals — as faceless characters. Of course, archaeological finds from the Indus Valley civilization have also shown many three dimensional forms of art such as sculpture, but as far as the seals are concerned, most of them are two-dimensional and faceless in character, as shown in the figure below.

Indus Valley Seals
Indus Seals and the Indus Civilization Script
Source: The Indus-Sarasvati Civilization

Now let us take a huge leap in time, and come to present day India (which was part of where the Indus Valley civilization flourished years ago). People of the Warli tribe create these beautiful art forms composed entirely of two dimensional, faceless characters, as shown in the picture below.

Warli Paintings
Warli art
Source: Geetesh Bajaj on Flickr

Some historians claim that this Warli art tradition dates back to almost 3000 BC (source: Wikipedia) — that’s close enough to the Indus Valley civilization!

Now we don’t know why all these art forms used faceless characters — most certainly they did not have the compulsions of creating an art form that required unbiased representations unhindered by geography, gender, or age! But we do know that these amazing qualities of the art forms discussed make them so relevant to contemporary society!

Note: This post is an observation, and makes no claims of historical accuracy!

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