Ghetto Tarot and the Haitian Slums

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Artist Alice Smeets recreates the Rider Waite tarot deck with Haitian people in the slums. All pictures copyrighted by Alice Smeets.

Voodoo is the official national religion of Haiti, but few if any Rider Waite tarot decks feature Haitian people or Haitian artists (let’s ignore the fact that a black woman invented the first Rider Waite tarot deck) Enter Alice Smeets and her fascinating photography project, “Ghetto Tarot.” She, along with a group of local Port-Au-Prince artists called the “atis rezistans” recreate iconic images from the Rider Waite with locally-sourced materials found in the Haitian slums.

The Queen of Wands “Ghetto Tarot” style by Alice Smeets.

I think this art project is fantastic. The recreated images are smart and offer a surprising glimpse of Haiti. Although the country’s impoverished surroundings are hard to ignore in these photographs, it is presented in a fun, interactive way. Yes, the poverty in Haiti is a crisis, but there is also more to Haiti than devastation and disaster. These Haitian artists’ sense of humor really made me smile and I wanted to share these images with all of you. Mondays suck. A little warmhearted irony can’t hurt. I originally found this story HERE on Design Boom.

All photos in this post are owned by Alice Smeets and respective artists.

Adorable, don’t you think?

5 of Cups recreated beautifully.

Alice Smeets writes about the project:

my aim was to create a very personal deck without loosing the different spirits of the cards’, smeets says. ‘then the idea entered my mind to combine three of my passions: the spiritual world, the haitian culture and people as well as the philosophical reflections about the dualities in our world; in this case rich and poor. moving away from the clichéd images of poverty, illustrating the spirits and meanings of the cards with a touch of humor in the middle of the slum and showing colored people for the first time on the traditional, old European cards to break stereotypes.’

The Ghetto Tarot project could use your support. They are trying to make it into a real 78-card tarot deck. They’ve met their goal, but you can preorder the deck along with posters and other prizes at their IndieGoGo page:

http://igg.me/at/ghettotarot

More about the artist:

http://www.alicesmeets.com/

@alicesmeets on Twitter

More about the atis rezistans:

http://www.atis-rezistans.com/about.php

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African American Tarot

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I have several tarot decks but I haven’t reviewed any of them. Today I’m pulling out my newest  set, African American Tarot by Lo Scarabeo. Lord knows, I searched low and high for a tarot deck that didn’t have the generic white, European characters on them! I saw a few decks that depicted “ethnic” characters/themes, but the artwork was hideous and I don’t accept that having brown characters means I have to compromise on quality. No, honey, not this one. White folks have been whitewashing the trade since…well…colonialism. But that’s another rant for another post. Just walk into your local occult shop or hoodoo shop (haha, don’t get me started!) and count how many people of color you see. Chances are, not many.

So I searched for a beautiful tarot deck with lush, detailed pictures like the Euro-centric ones in my collection. It wasn’t easy. There were a few that caught my eye, but I’ll only review  the deck my boyfriend surprised me with. I like obscure and or rare tarot decks, and I was not disappointed by African American Tarot. Illustrations are by Thomas Davis and Jamal R. is the writer.

The African American Tarot has nothing to do with “African Americans,” like advertised.  It’s more like generic tribal with afro-centric imagery. Lots of zebras, elephants, lions, and muscle-y men in loincloths and elaborate headdresses. I don’t mind all this, but there’s nothing “American” about what I just described, either. I was hoping for a more…um…”modern” approach, but whatevs. At least I have a deck with characters that (sorta) look like me! Historical black figures grace the foreground on some of the cards. 2 of Chalices has Jean Baptiste Du Sable and 5 of Pentacles features Sojourner Truth.

The minor and major arcana are based on traditional Rider-Waite themes. Like most tarot decks, there’s a booklet included with notes from the author. He infuses African-based folklore and deities into the descriptions and does not limit his scope to just one African religion/region. But I appreciate his broad approach. I don’t know what Sojourner Truth has to do with the 5 of Pentacles, but I’m happy she’s there, haha. Disjointed? Yes. But I’m willing to forget all that because the artwork is so well-done! The images are interpretive and I feel a visceral connection to them. Some of the images are odd, like the 2 of Wands, which depict a ghostlike man screaming in agony while a man rides on a bull above a baby in a crib. Um…yeah.

My favorite card (in any deck) is the Queen of Swords and so I always look to her first before making up my mind about the rest of the deck. In the African American Tarot, she is personified by Yemaja, who also just  happens to be my favorite Goddess. All in all, I like this deck. It’s not my favorite of all time, but I do look forward to using it when I am in the mood for an intuitive and less structured experience.