Sunni and Shia Views of Figurative Imagery

Thomas Klobe

Aniconism is a proscription against the creation of images of living beings. In Islam the issue of figurative imagery is two-fold: 1) the dilemma of the artist assuming the life-giving qualities reserved only for God, and 2) the danger of the image being revered and taking on almost magic powers. While the Quran condemns idolatry, it does not explicitly prohibit the depiction of living figures. Interdictions of figurative representation are present in the Hadith, compiled in the 2nd century of the Islamic era, and are based on the teachings and the life of the Prophet. Sunni thought is generally more explicit against the depiction of human beings, whereas Shia Islam often takes a more relaxed view toward representation. However, from experience in Iran, we know that on an individual level great diversity of thinking exists depending on the believer’s strictness or liberal tendencies. This talk will be accompanied by photographs and stories garnered from Peace Corps experiences in rural northern Iran. The audience will be invited to share their experience.

 Klobe, Thomas John


To view the video of this presentation, click here.

Tom Klobe is professor emeritus of Islamic and Medieval Art and founding director of the University of Hawaii (UH) Art Gallery. During his 29-year tenure at UH he organized and designed over 200 exhibitions, five of which received the prestigious Print Casebook Award for Best in Exhibition Design in competition with major museums in the United States and abroad. He has authored twelve exhibition catalogues and was editor of 25 publications. His book Exhibitions: Concept, Planning and Design was published in 2012, and his most recent publication, A Young American in Iran, in 2014. Klobe was named a Living Treasure of Hawaii in 2005 and was the recipient of the Robert W. Clopton Award for Distinguished Community Service in 2003. In 1999 he was knighted by the Republic of France as a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for his contributions to the arts in France and Hawaii.