*Biases: I am a Black American, Christian, visual artist and scholar who researches contemporary U.S. cultures and subcultures, popular culture, brands and cultural arts—with a dominant focus on the visual arts.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the recent release on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne album cover artwork created by Riccardo Tisci. Now, I am not sure about the Illuminati business; but, the artwork is controversial which I personally believe collaborators may have created for reaction alone. In the framework of PR and advertising this may have been an outstanding move because the work is relevant on a pluralistic platform: religion, entertainment, music, fashion, art, etc.
Various bloggers/writers are focusing on the use of Horus and other Egyptian gods and deities in the artwork. Being of the African Diaspora, for me this reference is just a form of looking back Sankofa principle: “it is not wrong for one to go back and take that which they have forgotten” or “simply go back and take.” It has to be understood that our ancestry is of the African Diaspora and Christianity was spread to various locales. Religion existed in various forms before Christianity touched the shores of the African coastline.
Not every African Diaspora reference is demonic. Yes, inanimate objects and animals were historically worshipped by Egyptians and yes we understand as Christians about the Holy Trinity and accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We also understand that God gives us free will. Traditionally in U.S. society any religion grounded in African culture was viewed as “Black Magic” since our counterparts did not understand our native culture. Consider this: Blacks are multifaceted and rich in history and it would be beneficial to learn your ethnic history as well as your national one.
Now, Ricardo Tisci is an Italian designer and Catholicism reigns supreme in his world as well as mythology. Questions: Can both religions cohesively exist in a person? Just as Egyptology and Christianity may live in a person? Does it create an internal battle? Does ascribing to multiple religious viewpoints make a person supernaturally evil ? As Christians we know you can only serve one God. So, we immediately think the aforementioned person and/or people are sacrilegious. Call me a contemporary Christian or whatever; but, I believe in one God and I also relate to various cultures and subcultures—my cultural viewpoints have no impact on my religious views.
In an art history scope Rocco (France) and Baroque (Italy) artists were very huge on ornamentation and in architecture the style was heavily embraced in the Catholic churches of the period. The Baroque style was used to evoke the bizarre, drama, tension, grandeur, etc in art. It was also embraced by the Roman Catholic Church as an artistic device to symbolically display the use of prideful power and control. In a nutshell, Baroque art was used to express a dramatic emotion.
Ornamentation, a technique heavily used in Rocco and Baroque art, has historically concealed meaning, this concept is very apparent in Watch The Throne, as the artists are using this device in contemporary times to confuse the meaning of power and authority. How does one get it? When one has it what to do with it? What comes with power? Are there sacrifices? Does power alienate you? Who is really in control? Who is really on the throne? Etc…
What I find particularly fascinating is, in a globalized world the collaborators have created a hybridization of art steeped in the African (Egyptian), French (Rocco) and Italian (Baroque) historical context that touches on the drama of present day as well as future imagined notions of grandiose power. To transcend the stereotypical identity of Black Americans in U.S. society Kanye and Jay-Z are essentially introducing the cultures and subcultures they ascribe to a new era of Black Americans. The question remains: are you ready for the shift?
Just two cents from a hybrid chic,
Check out more album artwork photos here