My voice is the inconvenient stone on the path of cultural irreverence and religious disrespect. However, some things must be stated in black and white. Every day, my Facebook feed is inundated with imagery depicting the Orisha as sex objects. Impossibly thin waistlines, huge protein-bulked muscular males, swollen lips smeared with colors, and long cat-like nails. These figures are dripping on Hollywood-like hypersexuality. Most of them are created by artificial intelligence, AI. However, a person directing the work sits at the end of that keyboard; AI Orisha art does not exist in a vacuum and suddenly decides to create itself.
(Images below are some examples of hypersexualized Orisha; credits to creators are reflected on the images)
Here are questions for those who still have common sense and do not follow fashion and trends like cattle. Why is depicting Yemayá, our most sacred and holy mother half naked, important? How does that advance your beliefs? How does that make you relate to her? Moreover, what does that say about your relationship with Orisha?
I am not writing this article to pick on any particular AI art creator. I understand that for some, it is a business and artistic expression and that, as such, they have the right to create any way their art guides them and to profit from their work. My issue with them would arise if they were Orishas themselves because they have responsibilities beyond art; they are accountable for the future of how Orisha is perceived by believers and non-believers who may be enthralled with that imagery. Yes, there is responsibility in each of our actions in creating art, and as an Olorisha, I, too, have a responsibility when I shape perceptions with my words.
However, the deep questions are for those who are not stopping to analyze the impact and repercussions of embracing AI art, which creates an image of the Lukumí culture far from the reality of our practices. This is a dangerous path that can cause further destruction, and trust me, this downfall is not coming from external non-Lukumí sources but from within, from our ranks. Embracing dissonance corrupts our way of life and attracts individuals who now have a misshapen aesthetic understanding of the Orisha. These images are fancy fly-fishing lures; many swallow hook, line, and sinker.
These AI Orisha images create cultural dissonance because, as Olorisha, we are taught to behave modestly and with decorum in our practices. Yet, I see post upon post of Olorishas embracing nearly lewd images of Orisha that would make our ancestors roll in their graves from disgust. We are making our Orishas look like cartoons, like the sexual fantasies of Hentai consumers.
(Some examples of imagery more in tune with the character and nature of Orisha)
There is also a tiny, itty-bitty matter to consider. What is it with the blunt disrespect to female Orishas? Why do we have a preponderance of AI art depicting male Orisha in a more dignified manner than female Orishas? What does that say about the creators of this art? Is the value of the female solely based on their genitalia and the preponderance of ample breasts and buttocks? Yes, Yemayá may be the great mother with large breasts, but those breasts are pendular; they have and do feed all of us. In my experience, breasts that nurtured children are hardly standing up, pointing to the heavens above. I wonder if any of the AI creators have ever beholden the beauty of breasts that have nurtured not one but many children. Do they understand the honors of stretch marks upon a mother's belly, hips, and buttocks that store energy-giving fat during pregnancy?
(Some examples of male Orishas are dignified and regal, although a bit on steroids...sorry, Ogun-He Man version second row far left)
Let me be the inconvenient voice, the stone in the path, and hopefully, the wake-up call. This is your world as an Olorisha. Shape it, or someone else will; AI will.
Oní Yemayá Ashabá