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    Issues arising from use of religious symbolism by Musicians

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    Asake became the latest Nigerian musician to draw the ire of a religious community after he donned priestly attire in the music video for his single ‘Only Me’.

    The use of religious symbolism by artists continues to be frowned upon by adherents of the faith whose religions are deployed in artistic expressions.

    Often, these artistic expressions lack the sanctity of the religion being depicted. Asake, for example, robed himself in the priestly attire of a Bishop while engaging in an act that has no connection with the practices of the Christian faith.

    In 2023, DMW‘s new signee Logos Olori had a rather unsavory introduction to the mainstream after Muslims decried his use of the prayer mat in the music video of his single ‘Jaye Lo’.

    While artists have a right to artistic expression, members of these religions have deemed some of the art too provocative.

    The use of religious symbolism in artistic direction

    The use of religion in music videos didn’t start today. In 1995, a study of music videos on MTV showed 38% of them featured religious imagery.

    The controversy that follows this use of religious imagery suggests that there might be some deliberate effort by the artist to provoke a public reaction. For example, when the director, Perlicks had vixens dressed like Nuns smoking cigarettes in BNXN‘s ‘Gwagwalada’ video, surely the crew and artist knew that the depiction was provocative.

    It’s also unlikely that Asake and TG Omori didn’t consider the possibility of public displeasure on their decision to cloth Asake in priestly attire in the music video for ‘Only Me’ while using the spraying of currency notes to depict the healing procession that’s popular with Nigerian pentecostal denominations.

    It would appear that this use of religious iconography could be largely motivated by clout chasing. Cinematographer Director X sees it that way. He says that while religious imagery could be a way to portray an artist’s personal story and values, there are artists who do it solely for the controversy.

    “Many people do this for the numbers. They know the video will go viral and everybody will talk about it. So people feel that’s what they need to do to be in the news.”

    Visual and creative designer Dunsin Bankole says that while some artists do it for the conversations, there are others who innocently get carried away with the depth and nuances that exist in religious vestiges without paying attention to how the use might be controversial and offensive.

    “Artists sometimes can’t resist the urge to sample from religious imagery. Some of them feel it will be complementary to the music without taking into context a whole lot of other factors”.

    Concert Producer and budding filmmaker Moyo Onipede opines that there’s not always a deliberate intention on the path of the artists to misinterpret religious imagery.

    “Sometimes artists don’t take the trouble to reconcile their artistic intention with the potential outcome. They have an idea and execute it without thinking about how it will be perceived and how people might get it wrong”.

    With the continuous incidents of artists interpreting religious imagery controversially and the public backlash that follows, some observers might see the need for a certain level of regulation.

    Director X says that inspiration can come from anywhere and creatives should be free to find inspiration in religion. He believes that matters of interpreting religious imagery should remain at the discretion of the artist and the video director.

    “It’s the prerogative of each artist and video director to determine if they are willing to execute a vision. Personally, I will try as much as possible not to misinterpret religious imagery. I won’t shoot a video that makes a mockery of my faith and I think it’s up to every creative to decide to not make art that disrespects people’s religion”.

    Director X says that when religious imagery is well represented, it will result in applause from the adherents of the faith the same way the misrepresentation results in backlash, and it’s up to every creative to choose the path they want to tow.

    Promise Apkodiete a visual creative designer with TurnTable Charts vehemently opposes any sought of regulation in the artistic use of religious imagery. Apkodiete considers it a right of expression that must not be tampered with.

    “It’s art and art has no bounds. Art is speech and we have freedom of speech so artists should be free to express themselves irrespective of who it affects”:

    So far, the public condemnation that follows the provocative use of religious imagery serves as a sort of deterrence.

    Boycotts from adherents of religions whose beliefs are misinterpreted can also serve as a deterrence. For example, according to the data collected by Social Blade, American musician Lil Nas X lost almost 150,000 followers after releasing his single ‘J Christ’ on which he controversially portrayed the Christian faith.

    There were also videos of images of Davido being burnt in Northern Nigeria and threats of a public boycott after he posted the controversial video for ‘Jaye Lo’.

    In 2023, there were also reports that protests from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church led to the cancellation of Rema’s concert in the country over claims of his practicing of satanism because of his necklace (described as a burning church).

    The use of religious iconography by musicians is a historic artistic endeavour that will continue to manifest in different forms. Whether it’s through fashion pieces, music videos, and stage design, artists will continue to express themselves as they see fit.

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