Indian sand artist responds after unique Sunak portrait confused with Tony Blair: ‘I was shocked’

India’s acclaimed sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik broke his silence after his sand sculpture of British prime minister Rishi Sunak was confused with Tony Blair.

Mr Pattnaik told The Independent that he was shocked to see comments of people finding the portrait similar to another British politician as his only intention was to portray Mr Sunak.

“My only intention was to draw Mr Sunak to congratulate him,” Mr Pattnaik said. “It was a proud moment for me to witness the historic moment of an Indian origin man becoming prime minister of the UK like many Indians.”

“I tried with the best of my ability to make the sculpture of Mr Sunak but there is never a guarantee how much of your sand art will match the original picture as sand does not have any graph,” he explained.

The sand sculptor, who held a Guinness World Record for the world’s “tallest sandcastle”, erected the huge sculpture on Puri beach in India’s Odisha state on 25 October, a day after Mr Sunak’s elevation to the highest position in Downing Street.

The temporary monument, created with golden sand, showed the portrait of Mr Sunak against the backdrop of a Union Jack flag.

“Congratulations Rishi Sunak,” the message on the sand art read.

Mr Pattnaik, who regularly creates striking sculptures on Puri’s beach often on the latest world news, usually leaves his million-plus followers on social media awestruck with intricate and mesmerising designs.

However, this time his work became viral after several users said the portrait resembled Mr Blair, the former Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007.

“I didn’t know Tony Blair was serving another term,” said one user. “Oh hi Tony Blair,” added another.

Mr Pattnaik said it was getting dark and a crowd was waiting for him to finish his art on the day he made Mr Sunak’s portrait.

“It takes at least 2-3 hours to finish one sand art depending on its size and you have to finish it before the sunset. Later that day when I saw some comments comparing it to Mr Blair I was left shocked as I had not even seen Mr Blair’s picture.”

He said he did not feel the sculpture looked like Mr Blair as his hairstyle and other features are very different from Mr Sunak.

The sand artist said he had great respect for the Murthy family, Mr Sunak’s Indian in-laws. His mother-in-law Sudha Murthy supported Mr Pattnaik when he was struggling and had not picked up sand art as a full-time profession.

“She found me after knowing about me and came to Puri. She encouraged me to pursue sand art and encouraged me,” he added.

Mr Pattnaik said he is planning to make another sculpture on the British prime minister to honour him.

“I would like to clarify, my sand sculpture was on newly appointed UK PM @RishiSunak. As an Artist I have tried my best to portray Mr Rishi Sunak through my sand art. It was my only intention to congratulate Mr Sunak and nothing else,” he tweeted.

Mr Sunak’s ascent to No 10 was widely celebrated by several Indians as that of an “Indian son” rising “over the Empire”.

Mr Sunak himself has stopped short of calling himself Indian, but does not shy away from embracing his faith as he was photographed lighting candles outside No 11 to mark the biggest Hindu festival Diwali.

He was born in Southampton to parents of Punjabi-Indian descent who migrated to Britain from East Africa in the 1960s.

His closest connection to India is through his wife, Akshata Murthy, the daughter of Indian billionaire Narayana Murthy, the chairman of IT giant Infosys, who is also known as “the Steve Jobs of India”.

Mr Pattnaik was the recipient of India’s prestigious Padma Shri award, the fourth-highest civilian award given by the government of India. He added the Italian Golden Sand Art Award in 2019 to his long list of accolades.