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Old 06-11-2018, 08:15 AM   #1
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Can a Veiled Image of a Prophet be Drawn?

As I make art on occasion, this has been a question on my mind that comes up now and then.

The question goes into Islamic art history. Generally speaking, there are two strains of thought in regards to art, the Sunni and Shia.

To the Sunni, depicting anything in reality is blasphemous, and so Sunni art focuses on abstract and geometric art, instead of artistic depictions of things.

To the Shia, the rules are basically identical to the Baha'i Faith's: in that depictions of things are allowed, so long as the image is not of a Prophet.

Now since some Shia artists still wanted to depict events from religious history, a certain tradition of a sort came about: "Veiling the Prophet". Basically the idea is that if a scene included a Prophet, that prophet would still be included in the image, but his face would be veiled, usually by a halo or shroud of white flames.

This way, the image of the Prophet is still respected, because the prophet himself is not shown, but the viewer of the art still understands that the scene includes the prophet, because they can understand that he is present beneath the flames or veil hiding his image.

Personally, I really like the veiling stylistically, as I think it beautifully and symbolically represents the Prophet reflecting the Light of God (and artistically I enjoy the symbolic over the realistic).

And I find it a better compromise for including a Prophet in a scene than, say, how the movie "Muhammad - The Last Prophet" gets around the issue (by having Muhammad perpetually out of frame).

So then the central question I wish to pose in this thread: Is the practice of drawing a "hidden/veiled prophet" acceptable within Baha'i artistry??

I've read all the Baha'i Scriptures that I am aware of regarding images of a prophet, and this practice is not specifically addressed to my knowledge.

My own feelings would be that this practice would be allowed under the faith, for two reasons:

1) Since the Faith has Shia roots, I would think if the Shia interpretation of laws regarding the depiction of prophets was incorrect, Baha'u'llah would have addressed this false interpretation somewhere. Ergo I would think the common Shia interpretation that allows for veiling the prophet would be permissible.

2) The prophet is technically not depicted by such art, rather there is a sort of "stand in" in place of the prophet, that communicates to the viewer the presence of the prophet within the scene without using his actual image, thereby keeping respect for the prophet's image in tact.

But I'm also interested in hearing other people's ideas on this particular issue.
 
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Old 06-11-2018, 10:11 AM   #2
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This is a question I have pondered myself quite frequently. I think a veil is fine for the fact that you are effectively depicting a human body with no noticeable features (Aside from maybe, the figures weight) - it could be anyone under that veil.

I've had this small statue of the Buddha for 3 years now (Longer than I have been a Baha'i), and I also have a statue of Budai (Who is not a Manifestation or prophet or even really a Buddha in his own culture, just a happy monk) right next to it. I use the two statues to hold all the rosaries I've been given throughout my life, there are 6 dangling off of them collectively. However, as the Buddha is a Manifestation, I did not want to show his face. I have a small black cloth acting as a full-head veil over him, secured by a rosary on my desk. Hah.
 
Old 06-12-2018, 03:52 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walrus View Post
...if a scene included a Prophet, that prophet would still be included in the image, but his face would be veiled, usually by a halo or shroud of white flames....
Quote:
Originally Posted by Saveyist View Post
...I think a veil is fine for the fact that you are effectively depicting a human body with no noticeable features ....
There've been a number of excellent artistic renderings of historical experiences w/o dressing someone up in a "manifestation suit" for say, singing a song on stage or something. So many better ways of doing the same thing while still maintaining a sense of reverence for the sacred. Not too long ago my son was telling me about an excellent play about the martyrdom of the Bab where the Prophet was always off stage & the action focused on others. The same can be done w/ renderings.

Depicting the Prophet in any way can be highly inflammatory, to the point that we even had a rumor that an entire diplomatic mission in Africa was murdered by a crowd of fanatics enraged supposedly by some youtube video. Personally, while I see an issue here w/ some substance imho it's very low on my list of things to get a wedgie over.
 
Old 06-12-2018, 05:28 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete in Panama View Post
There've been a number of excellent artistic renderings of historical experiences w/o dressing someone up in a "manifestation suit" for say, singing a song on stage or something.
That's not my artistic medium, though, so it's not really a help.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete in Panama View Post
So many better ways of doing the same thing while still maintaining a sense of reverence for the sacred. Not too long ago my son was telling me about an excellent play about the martyrdom of the Bab where the Prophet was always off stage & the action focused on others. The same can be done w/ renderings.
I disagree, that can only work for a "realistic style", and only for certain scenes that are well known and can be understood by the majority of the audience.

For instance, it would be nearly impossible to depict the Mi'raj with Muhammad out of frame. I mean I suppose you could draw some angels flying through the heavens, but in no way would that communicate that the event the artist sought to capture was the Mi'raj then.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete in Panama View Post
Depicting the Prophet in any way can be highly inflammatory, to the point that we even had a rumor that an entire diplomatic mission in Africa was murdered by a crowd of fanatics enraged supposedly by some youtube video.
As an aside, and not to get too political, but it was proven that that rumor was false, and the YouTube video played no part in the riot at all. It was also proven that the nation that propagated that rumor was aware of its falsehood at the time they announced to the world that the YouTube video was at fault.

Additionally, there's a lonnnnnng history of portraying a veiled figure in place of Muhammad in Eastern Art, and those depictions have not prompted fanatical outrage.
 
Old 06-12-2018, 06:58 AM   #5
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...it was proven that that rumor was false, and the YouTube video played no part in the riot at all...
Ah, --good to know that I'm not the only one on this forum who understands that the story wasn't true Maybe someday there will be more....
Quote:
Originally Posted by Walrus View Post
...there's a lonnnnnng history of portraying a veiled figure in place of Muhammad in Eastern Art, and those depictions have not prompted fanatical outrage.
Understood, but while most folks online are very respectful of limits of conduct w/ respect to offending Muslims, apparently there's no such restraint in ridicule w/ depictions of the central figures of our Faith. Seems what's developed w/ the friends is a preference for simply not showing the Prophet at all in the arts. That's my take tho, official guidance may differ.

Huh. Not so w/ music tho, we got lots of songs w/ "Baha'u'llah says...". Seems that the objections show up in the other performing arts and w/ renderings.
 
Old 06-12-2018, 11:54 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete in Panama View Post
Seems what's developed w/ the friends is a preference for simply not showing the Prophet at all in the arts. That's my take tho, official guidance may differ.
It in fact does differ. Shoghi Effendi made it clear that any direct portrayal of the Central Figures should be avoided.

Quote:
Originally Posted by the Guardian
With reference to your question whether the Figures of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh should be made to appear as characters in dramatic works written by the believers, Shoghi Effendi's opinion is that such an attempt to dramatize the Manifestations would be highly disrespectful, and hence should be avoided by the friends, even in the case of the Master. Besides it would be practically impossible to carry out such a plan faithfully, and in a dignified and befitting manner. (January 27, 1935)
Quote:
Originally Posted by the Guardian
As to your question concerning the advisability of dramatizing Bahá'í historic episodes: The Guardian would certainly approve, and even encourage that the friends should engage in such literary pursuits which, no doubt, can be of an immense teaching value. What he wishes the believers to avoid is to dramatize the Personages of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá, that is to say to treat Them as dramatic figures, as characters appearing on the stage. This, as already pointed out, he feels would be quite disrespectful. The mere fact that They appear on the scene constitutes an act of discourtesy which can in no way be reconciled with Their highly exalted station. Their message, or actual Words, should be preferably reported and conveyed by Their disciples appearing on the stage. (July 25, 1936)
Quote:
Originally Posted by the Universal House of Justice
The use of light, either of great intensity or in different colours, needs your careful consideration. If the use of light in any way at all suggests a personification of the Manifestation of God it should not be used, but if it can be done without in any way giving the impression that the Prophet is being represented or personified then there is no objection to its use. (August 12, 1975)
Quote:
Originally Posted by the Universal House of Justice
The prohibition on representing the Manifestation of God in paintings and drawings or in dramatic presentations applies to all the Manifestations of God. There are, of course, great and wonderful works of art of past Dispensations, many of which portrayed the Manifestations of God in a spirit of reverence and love. In this Dispensation however the greater maturity of mankind and the greater awareness of the relationship between the Supreme Manifestation and His servants enable us to realize the impossibility of representing, in any human form, whether pictorially, in sculpture or in dramatic representation, the Person of God's Manifestations. In stating the Bahá'í prohibition, the beloved Guardian pointed out this impossibility. (March 9, 1977)
Nevertheless there are two fotografies of Bahá'u'lláh from His time in Adrianople. There is no prohibition to have or to look at them, but they should be used in a very dignified manner and not displayed publicly.

Last edited by SoerenRekelBludau; 06-13-2018 at 12:00 AM.
 
Old 06-13-2018, 02:47 PM   #7
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Some additional insight to the question about how the Manifestations of God may be represented in art comes from the new film "The Gate" about the Bab. According to the producer, Steve Sarowitz, they shot several examples of showing the subject only from behind, only the hands, even a shadow cast on the ground, and showed those to the House of Justice to ask if any could be used, and they said none of them should be used, so I don't think a veiled figure would be appropriate either, according to Baha'i standards.

Last edited by Jcc; 06-13-2018 at 02:50 PM.
 
Old 06-13-2018, 04:12 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jcc View Post
Some additional insight to the question about how the Manifestations of God may be represented in art comes from the new film "The Gate" about the Bab. According to the producer, Steve Sarowitz, they shot several examples of showing the subject only from behind, only the hands, even a shadow cast on the ground, and showed those to the House of Justice to ask if any could be used, and they said none of them should be used, so I don't think a veiled figure would be appropriate either, according to Baha'i standards.
I think this is the right path to take. Our veils to the significance of this are many.

Regards Tony
 
Old 06-17-2018, 05:48 AM   #9
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Greetings Walrus,

Steve Sarowitz, executive producer to the recent documentary entitled The Gate, explained that this was an important learning lesson for the team and himself too. Namely how to make a documentary about the Báb without featuring Him.

I can recall one piece of art that sought to represent the Báb through employing a five pointed Golden Star in a scene depicting His execution. This image is online and you should be able to retrieve it if you care to search for it. By using a star in a realist style of artwork the image belittled the scene it was attempting to dignify. As such it was viewed to be in poor taste. However, if an artist sought to use the flame from a candle to be the metaphor of a Manifestation of God, no one would be any the wiser. In reality the power of human imagination is what you need to focus on here, because artists that can stimulate the human mind to imagine images for themselves have the greatest power to convey the presence of Manifestations of God within their works.

Many pieces of art rest within National Bahá’í Centres. This is because so much art and craftsmanship has been donated to them from the hands of the believers themselves over the years. From fine Persian rugs, exquisite wooden furnishings and handmade decor, they represent Bahá’í art in activity. Indeed just visiting a National Bahá’í Centre is an artistic experience in its own right. My favourite classic painting can be found within the Bahá’í National Centre of Ireland. At the time I visited, it was offered for permanent display from an accomplished Bahá’í artist. This is an oil painting on canvas that is of exceptional quality. In it the artist depicted the joy of twelve female martyrs as seen through the divine eye. It is without doubt the most moving painting I have ever witnessed because the artist sought to show how Bahá’u’lláh might look upon these faithful women. In contrast my favourite abstract art can be found within Bahá’í National Centre of the U.K. after it was decorated to receive H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. In the National Spiritual Assembly Room there is a table for the trustees. At the head of the table there is a wall that has a small raised alcove. Within it stands a wooden chair that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sat on when He visited London. Therefore, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is always seen to be present at the head of the table when the trustees of the National Spiritual Assembly are in session.

Rather than passing any judgement on any art that you might choose to produce, because Shia art once made perfect sense to me too because this is how I see Manifestations of God in my dreams, I once set up an experiment. Rather that trying to produce a painting of a Manifestation of God, I sketched the way the world might look like from the eyes of Bahá’u’lláh. The Mother of Bahá’u’lláh often expressed great concerns about His small stature. So in order to visualise How Bahá’u’lláh might view the world I went through a phase of examining how scenes and people would appear from a person of the same height. It was an important lesson for me because it allowed me to understand how people’s faces differ relative to the height difference between people. Indeed I went on to do the same for other small people, including the smallest known lady in the world who stood a mere 18 inches tall. Today you can do this exercise with a simple phone camera and it will be just as revealing. Through this exercise I came to realised the falsity and shallowness of Shia art. Instead of seeking to capture a representation of a Manifestation of God, it seeks to establish a man made prejudice that they must be tall, robust, strong and capable of mounting the largest of steeds. Bahá’u’lláh does not meet any of these man made artistic expectations. Indeed He was commonly referred to as being little more than a dwarf by some of His opponents. In contrast ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was described to have the physique similar to a tall manly king. Manifestations of God, just like everyone else in the world, cannot be judged by their physical characteristics. But even so, Bahá’u’lláh went through the same ordeals with carrying chains that were the same weight as those carried by male prisoners that were over six feet tall. Given His statute, in relative terms, He was obliged to carry around twice the weight as an average male prisoner. These chains had the weight to break the will of men that were over six feet tall. Try to imagine how a person that was about as tall as an nine year old child might have faired? When you contemplate on this it is hardly surprising that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a child Himself, fainted on seeing His Father tortured by such means. This is because at that time He was already close to the height of His Father.

Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were endowed with handsome facial qualities, but the photographic images of Bahá’u’lláh do not do Him justice because He was under duress at the time they were taken. So while we have photographic images of the face of Bahá’u’lláh, they do not truly represent Him in my eyes. They merely represent His tortured shell. If you want to obtain a better artistic image of the face of Bahá’u’lláh look at the images of His children. The more you work with their faces in your artwork the better you will come to appreciate the facial features of Bahá’u’lláh too. Indeed within the face of any child you will also see the faces of their parents too.

Do of course bear in mind that within some schools Bahá’í children have been expected to draw Manifestations of God. On one occasion a Bahá’í child, after expressing her concerns, was told that she must complete a drawing of Jesus. She contemplated on the challenge at hand, then went to work on it. Once it was finished she handed it to her teacher. In it was a path with footprints leading to a river. Then, on the surface of the river bubble could be seen. Such is the imagination of a child. It is good to end conversations such as these with a smile is it not?

If you ever find yourself facing a dilemma think on the words uttered by the late Alan Rickman in one of his religious movies “(Walrus), was Wisconsin really that bad?”

Here is wishing you well on your various artistic ventures and the numerous lessons that you learn from them.

Earth
 
Old 06-18-2018, 06:35 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Earth View Post
This image is online and you should be able to retrieve it if you care to search for it.
Nope... my Google-fu is lacking it seems.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earth View Post
By using a star in a realist style of artwork the image belittled the scene it was attempting to dignify. As such it was viewed to be in poor taste.
Hm. Artistically I am of the surrealist school, and thus I find I must lament the obsession with realism on display in such a backlash.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earth View Post
Rather than passing any judgement on any art that you might choose to produce, because Shia art once made perfect sense to me too because this is how I see Manifestations of God in my dreams, I once set up an experiment. Rather that trying to produce a painting of a Manifestation of God, I sketched the way the world might look like from the eyes of Bahá’u’lláh. The Mother of Bahá’u’lláh often expressed great concerns about His small stature. So in order to visualise How Bahá’u’lláh might view the world I went through a phase of examining how scenes and people would appear from a person of the same height. It was an important lesson for me because it allowed me to understand how people’s faces differ relative to the height difference between people. Indeed I went on to do the same for other small people, including the smallest known lady in the world who stood a mere 18 inches tall.
So from this I gather we are very different artistically. I get the impression you might be more inclined to realism, since your thoughts on perspective seem to focus on what things would look like from a certain height, whereas I would be more inclined to think in terms of symbolism and worldview when trying to draw from a certain person's perspective.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earth View Post
Today you can do this exercise with a simple phone camera and it will be just as revealing.
This is an aside, but this expresses exactly why I don't see a point in realism. Camera or the human eye can capture realism better than anything else. Thus, I think, a graphical arts should focus on things that a camera could not depict. But that's just my own artistic preferences.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earth View Post
Through this exercise I came to realised the falsity and shallowness of Shia art. Instead of seeking to capture a representation of a Manifestation of God, it seeks to establish a man made prejudice that they must be tall, robust, strong and capable of mounting the largest of steeds.
Here's where we differ, because I don't believe that Persian miniature and its derived art forms are being viewed in the correct light. That art genre isn't as obsessed with realism as is common in western art forms.

Thus, I don't think the stature of a figure in a miniature should be indicative of the stature of the person it depicts (regardless of whether or not that figure is a prophet). Rather, things like that can be symbolic, speaking of non-visual traits, rather than literal and realist.

Miniature aimed for depicting the things that can't be seen in a stylized or abstract method, and went out of its way to avoid realism, for religious reasons. And so the height of a person depicted in that art style can mean many different things, but the one thing that height shouldn't be taken as meaning is the person's actual height.

So, again, we have very different artistic sensibilities.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earth View Post
Bahá’u’lláh does not meet any of these man made artistic expectations. Indeed He was commonly referred to as being little more than a dwarf by some of His opponents.
See, contrary to that, I think he did live up to these artistic expectations, because I do not view those works of art from the realist mindset.

It certainly wasn't meant to be viewed from the realistic mindset, since those artists tried to go out of their way to avoid people doing so, since they thought trying to depict anything with realism was blasphemous.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earth View Post
If you ever find yourself facing a dilemma think on the words uttered by the late Alan Rickman in one of his religious movies “(Walrus), was Wisconsin really that bad?"
Urg, a terrible movie, lol. Insulted my state, and more importantly insulted my favorite angel. I really wish contemporary depictions didn't just conclude "Oh he's the angel of death, he must be evil."

Last edited by Walrus; 06-18-2018 at 06:41 AM.
 
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