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