Tarot of the QTPOC: The Haitian Tarot

Continuing my Tarot of the QTPOC series. Thank you to Beth from The Little Red Tarot for your lovely shoutout!

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First things first, yes I know it’s not called The Haitian Tarot. Work with me here.

This is a deck that has made the rounds, even going as far as mainstream getting an article in The Guardian. An article, by the way, whose very title exhibits why I took so long to even be able to write about this deck. So I’ll be brief and to the point about it.

The production process of this deck makes me very uncomfortable. I can’t change that just as much as I can’t stand it. I’ve spent a whole lot of time wishing that a person of color was behind this, receiving the bulk of credit (and let’s face it, profit) from the project.

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I also know that had it been a person of color, particularly a Haitian black person, there’s very little chance this deck would have gotten the kind of mainstream buzz it had (just think about the kind of publicity indie decks by POC artists are getting, or rather not getting). It doesn’t make it right, but if not for Alice Smeets and her reputation and connections, this deck might not have made it this far- at the complex of privilege and allyship.

Remembering that it means that this has given liberal white organizations and individuals some kind of carte blanche to write endless think-pieces on the word “Ghetto” and remark on its ‘beauty’ and ‘depth’ and ‘resilience’ as portrayed in this deck. People who are quiet after the news cycle forgot Haiti, as European nations interfered with its prosperity, as Haitians were kicked out of their homes in the Dominican Republic.

To echo all the Black voices who’ve come before me, I wish the world loved Black people as much as they love Black culture.

So I have enjoyed this deck vicariously through photos around the internet, visited the Atis Retizans page to learn more about them and their incredible work to find ways to support them directly. Told myself to ignore the little decklust demon that kept asking me to purchase the deck.

It kept nagging at me, there is a deck out there with mine and my people’s face on it, and I can’t even completely revel in that rarity. How messed up is that?

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the Hermit Card (far right) is stunning, goodness!

Much deliberation and hemming and hawing and the bottom line is, I can’t ignore a deck with beautiful black faces, proud in their artistry. So I’ll focus on the Atis Rezistans, and their incredible creativity, their fierce reclamation of the ghetto, the genius of their composition, and the magic of Black people everywhere. It’s a deck that definitely belongs on the Tarot of the QTPOC list. It captures the beauty of Haitian artistry, culture, and tradition.

Grand Rue is the main avenue that runs a north-south swathe through downtown Port au Prince from Bel Air and La Saline to La Cimetière and Carrefour. At the southern end of Grand Rue, amongst the labyrinthine warren of back streets that line the avenue, is an area that traditionally has produced small handicrafts for the ever-diminishing tourism market. This close-knit community is hemmed in on all sides by the makeshift car repair district, which serves as both graveyard and salvation for the cities increasingly decrepit automobiles.

All the artists grew up in this atmosphere of junkyard make-do, survivalist recycling and artistic endeavour… Their work references their shared African & Haitian cultural heritage, a dystopian sci-fi view of the future and the positive transformative act of assemblage…Their work is transformative on many different allegorical levels, the transformation of wreckage to art, of disunity to harmony and of three young men, with no formal arts training, to the new heirs of a radical and challenging arts practice that has reached down through both modernist and post-modern arts practice.

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from their page: the Atis Rezistance 2006 Mardi Gras float made from over a hundred metal oil drums lit from within, beautiful masks and Vodou veves

[all tarot images from The Ghetto Tarot, which I will always refer to as The Haitian Tarot]

 

 

8 thoughts on “Tarot of the QTPOC: The Haitian Tarot

  1. Tarot Bee says:

    Thank you so much for this piece. I really struggled with this deck, in large part initially because of its name but also because of a sense of a lack of equal ownership/profits between the named artist and her fellow Haitian artists. I put off getting one for reasons similar to yours, but also finally gave in as there is nothing like it out there.

    You’ve inspired me to also only call it the Haitian Tarot, and reminded me to keep Atis Rezistans at the forefront of my own speaking about this deck. I also remember that all the collaborating artists are NAMED, albeit only the non-POC in the title and headline (*rages*), and so I read and learn and honor their names and work, too.

    Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • asaliearthwork says:

      Thank you for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I’ve struggled with the way this deck was made since the time I saw it. Struggle is almost too nice a word for what I felt, I was bitter, just bitter about how beautiful it was and how ugly its much praised conception was to me. It took a while for me to put that into words. My comfort came from when I looked only at the faces of the Atis Retizans, the art they so lovingly made. Thank you for reminding me too to forefront NAMING. Blessings, always ❤

      Like

  2. Beth Maiden (@littleredtarot) says:

    I’ve had so many emails from folks suggesting I cover this deck on LRT but it didn’t feel right. As always, the voices of POC didn’t seem to be audible. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective, for illustrating the ‘complex of privilege and allyship’, for righteously celebrating the subjects of this beautiful deck and for as always providing a really balanced and important critique!

    Liked by 1 person

    • asaliearthwork says:

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. Allyship is such a complicated praxis and it is something that can often go so wrong despite the best intentions, harming precisely the folx it wanted to help. & Thank YOU for your support for this project.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mara says:

    Thanks for writing about this deck. Frankly no @ white people being super into the ‘ghetto tarot’ when the project is headed by a white Belgian woman looking to supposedly highlight the “strength and resilience” of Black Haitians living in poverty. She’s only paying the artists’s collective appearing in her portraits 20% of the overall profits and pretending this is some grand, noble, collaborative endeavor, with no possible suggestion of unequal power structures at play.

    Her attitude toward criticisms and questions of exploitation are, “If I had never decided to feature these people they wouldn’t have gotten anything at all; look they’re so grateful and loving to me, I worked so hard, this is so provocative to and educational for you, my fellow (white) westerners; this couldn’t possibly be exploitive!”

    How in the world is this being labeled a “team up” by the media? Why don’t we know offhand the names of the Black Haitian artists who acted out these scenes, gathered materials for these shoots, and whose culture and lives were used as props supposedly meant to challenge white European esoterica and conceptions of poverty? People point out that in the video they gave their blessing on the use of the word ghetto (which frankly I find to be one of the least provocative aspects of this project), but it seems naive to assume their enthusiasm exists in a vacuum in which they have just as much social and artistic power or control as Smeets.

    “Also, I strongly believe that if we want a world free of racism, each of us has to stop classifying races. I read in this forum several times that as a white woman I have no right to use and transform the word Ghetto. Don’t you feel that this statement in itself sounds very racist? I grew up in a little town in Belgium where racism basically didn’t exist, so please understand that I am not able to capture what my race has to do with my rights. I want for others, what I want for myself.”

    This was Smeets’s response to criticism and discussion regarding her projects and smacks of some amazing ignorance on her part. She might as well have spelled out the words “reverse racism” and subsequent defenders expound on her good intentions and how her detractors are merely looking to be offended. An end to racism isn’t an end to the classification or conversation of race, it’s the complete dismantling and destruction of white supremacy and all its subsequent subsystems including colonialism and imperialism.

    Most of the commentary I’ve read is just a lot of intellectualizing from white journalists and tarotists saying this deck is purposefully challenging, necessary, provocative, meaningful for THEM, as white privileged citizens of a “developed” nation. How proud they are to look at these images and be affirmed in their moral convictions and perspectives.

    The whole thing makes me cringe in my soul. I think people need to be really honest with themselves as to why they feel the need to own these images as part of their tarot practice. People need to think how systemic power imbalances play into the post-colonialist gaze and the objectification of racialized poverty while offering promises of global exposure as a route to self-empowerment.

    Like

    • asaliearthwork says:

      Now see, I didn’t even know all those details… the little I did know had already led me to those conclusions. I’m sorry to know I was right, but hardly surprised. I am so DONE with lib folx marvelling at the ‘resilience’ and ‘beauty’ of black people suffering. It makes it so very clear that they don’t have any real interest in seeing us THRIVE… our beauty only comes in our oppression- reeks of old pro-slavery arguments.

      Thank you for coming through and reading through my thoughts- I witness yours as well.

      Like

  4. Edyss says:

    I’d just posted a reading with this deck when I saw your tweet. I had the same issues – still do – but when I delved deeper into the project I decided to buy the deck. I believe it’s also an offshoot of the Ghetto Bienniale (but I totally get why you’ve renamed it). I hadn’t read Smeets’ quotes so those were a shocker. I’m still torn as the deck is beautiful and features people who look like me.

    Like

    • Asali says:

      re: the Ghetto Bienniale, yes it’s very likely. I first saw the name change from @pretty.medicine on IG who has the deck. I feel like the way I use the name change isn’t so much for me or us, more the consuming non-white folk who may come into contact with this deck. With whom I’m not yet so comfortable licensing to use the word ghetto when it’s historically evolved into such a weapon against marginalized communities. I love that the Haitian artists are transforming the word but just like other slurs, communities with power are often not positive parts of that transformation.

      I fully respect any black tarot reader’s relationship to this deck. God knows I want it too. Every single time I look at the Sun or Hermit card I am always this close to getting the deck. Every single time I don’t purchase the deck I resent Smeets a bit more for making it so that a deck that looks like me is so within and beyond my reach at the same time. Honestly, I’ll probably end up getting it secondhand or something. It’s a beautiful deck, and its energy keeps calling me. I would love to get a reading from it someday.

      For now, I waffle. Sigh.

      Like

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