WHY THE BLACK QUEER TAROT?
I used to always equate anything remotely “spiritual” with religion, and religion never felt like a home to me as a Black queer man, so I would reject anything that felt like it. More recently, though, I've begun to see myself as spiritual and my art as a spiritual practice in itself. In the search for myself I've dabbled in astrology, numerology, life-path numbers and more recently tarot.
I initially was looking for a deck for myself and I couldn’t find anything that mirrored my world. If I found a queer deck, white figures were depicted primarily. If I found a deck with Black figures depicted, they were cisgender. I wanted something that could fit both of those worlds. People sometimes ask me if I’m more of a Black person or more of a queer person. Those questions make no sense to me because I show up in the world as both. I can’t compartmentalize. I get that other people can do so with certain aspects of their identity, but to me, both of those parts make up who I am. And I wanted a deck that reflected that.
When I see people doing readings on social media, it's usually with decks featuring faces that don't reflect their own. I think those readings, which are already so powerful, can be even more potent when the faces reflect both the reader and the intended audience. These Even new versions are so necessary for giving communities that are normally ostracized a chance at seeing accurate depictions of themselves in the media.
Hence, for a year or so, I toyed around with the idea of creating a deck myself. Initially I was going to just use works that I had already created. Occult and esoteric art already has a strong influence on my own, as evidenced in my older works; many of which have been mistaken as artwork for a tarot deck. But once I decided to actually do this project, my triple cardinal sign energy kicked in and I decided to create 78 brand-new artworks dedicated to the BLACK QUEER TAROT. Not only did I create the art but I also photographed most of the muses myself. This makes sense given that back in the day, I accrued significant photography experience while running an art magazine named Art Nouveau. Ironically enough, it was photography that led me to collage. Years later and by way of this project, I have now come full circle, with collage leading me back to photography.
As much as this project is about the deck itself, it’s also a labor of love for my community. At first I hypocritically believed that people wouldn’t support this project if I put it out there through crowdfunding. After talking about this project before launching the campaign, however, I realized that this is something that people are interested in, and that I shouldn’t be scared to share it. I was still petrified, but in hindsight I see that crowdfunding was definitely the right way to go. The universe has opened up in so many ways as a result of me doing this campaign. It feels like all the people who have donated and shared the campaign are invested in the success of this project. Even though I was spearheading it, it feels like I have a whole little nation out there that’s looking out.
Photography by Yinka Parris
The photo shoots were the part I worried about most. I put up a few flyers on social media looking for muses and scheduled those in 30-minute intervals. Fall of 2020, I began photographing about 5 to 7 people a day in my studio in Harlem. The process of photographing people was very intimate. The way I photograph, I like to capture the moment in--between the moment. I love action shots. It makes the completed collages look like a still from a film to me.
I would talk to the muses while I photographed them. I asked them about their life, their fears, who they're dating, what they're working on, their sun, moon, and rising signs. I got a great sense of their energy and a lot of that played into the cards they were picked to portray. Now that the images are out, so many of the muses have looked up the meaning of each card and pointed out to me how eerily accurate it is to their personalities; and I'm just like... kismet!
The shoots managed to add context to each of the cards when I began the artworks. I don’t think I would have gotten the insight I needed to complete this project if I hadn’t taken the portraits myself and just had people submit photos.
I was adamant about the cards being representative of a wide range of Black queer people. I wanted as many Black queer people as possible to be able to see themselves in this work. That means representing as many body types, life experiences, sexualities, genders and skin tones as I could. I wanted all of the bases to be covered without it seeming like anyone was being tokenized.
With the poses, I aimed for them to look beautiful and desirable, but I was also adamant about them looking like they have agency in the visual situation presented. I wanted them all to exude some form of glamour or grace. I think control is something we’re all striving for in our own way. As Black queer people, we're constantly having things thrust upon us from outside sources, so I see tarot and other spiritual practices as ways to take back some of that power. And it can be transformative. All the people that I photographed picked up on that. So even when they were shy at first, they understood that they had to open up for the process to happen.
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