In a previous Tarot-related post, I expressed concern about the white European flavor of standard Tarot decks. The Ghetto Tarot is a beautiful and inventive project that showcases Haitian art and culture. Documentary photographer Alice Smeets re-created the classic poses from the Rider-Waite Tarot with a group of Haitian artists known as Atiz Rezistans. Read this interview with her in the photography webzine 500px ISO, and buy a copy of the deck (32 euros=approx. $37). The article includes a video of the local artists talking about what the project meant to them. They’ve reclaimed the word “ghetto” to mean a community where everyone looks out for one another. Hat tip to Caleigh Royer, the blogger who inspired me to look into Tarot, for posting this on Facebook.
From the interview:
The spirit of the Ghetto Tarot project is the inspiration to turn negative into positive while playing. The group of artists “Atiz Rezistans” use trash to create art with their own visions that are a reflection of the beauty they see hidden within the waste. They are claiming the word “Ghetto,” thus freeing themselves of its depreciating undertone and turning it into something beautiful.
Their act of appropriating a word loaded with unfavorable sentiments by altering its meaning in a playful way is in itself an act of inspiration. This undertaking of the Haitians made me realize that it lies only within us to assign value or judgment towards a tangible or intangible thing, which creates a positive or negative emotion.
If we realize that it’s a choice whether we look at destruction and see despair or to regard it as the start of something new, we can change the meaning of every word, action and sentiment. The consciousness of this choice is something I learned from the Haitian artists and we are sharing it together with the world through the Ghetto Tarot….
…As a photographer, my main motivation has always been to bring change using my camera as a tool. As a witness of injustice in this world, I have always wanted to share my emotions and experiences through my pictures and was hoping for people to act as a result to stop the unfairness.
I photographed people in seemingly hopeless situations, people stuck in a circle of poverty, destruction and pain. And I accomplished my wish to touch the viewers feelings and observed that the emotions that my documentary photos brought up were emotions of pity, sadness, and depression. Finally, I realized that the negative feelings that my images projected onto the audience as well as onto the subjects created a sensation of disempowerment instead of an inspiration towards the act of change. With this realization came an understanding unveiling the continuous exposure of my own state of mind in every picture frame and the awareness that the change I desired for this world could only thrive within myself.
As a consequence, I put the camera down for a while and turned my attention towards my inner self. It seemed like a long and difficult path in which I tried out many different methods, including reading tarot cards until I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel: The revelation that I don’t need to be the observer of my and the world’s problems and destiny, I am a creator.