The Ghetto Tarot is a photographic interpretation of the well-known traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. Set in the Haitian ghetto, these fresh scenes were inspired by those originally created in 1909 by the artist Pamela Colman-Smith. The Ghetto Tarot scenes were replicated by award winning photographer Alice Smeets with the assistance of a group of Haitian artists called Atis Rezistans, within the Haitian slums and using only local material.The Ghetto Tarot
The Ghetto Tarot comes in a 2-piece hard durable box lined with a cardboard basin to hug the deck safely, complete with a 68 page guidebook and 78 card deck. The guidebook is in black and white, gives both the light and shadow descriptor of the card with an archetype, but also credits either the actor or artist photographed in the card.
I personally like the intro to the book which gives the reader a little background into the Haitian culture and the decks inspiration of the artisans and their local art exhibition ‘Ghetto Biennale’. Doing a little research digging into the Atis Rezistans I’m really impressed at how a community can support and help flurish the creativity of local artists to help raise awareness and spread the message of their culture. The community takes such pride in what they DO have in life and are grateful for what most modern Americans would consider to have such little. They have created a community around art and culture utilizing and recycling “trash” and turning it into treasure.
In Haiti, ‘ghetto’ means a life in the slims. It means living without financial security. Yet ‘ghetto’ also means community, family, solidarity, strength and rich creativity. The Haitians are claiming the word ‘ghetto’ for their own. The word reached the island from overseas where it was associated with racism, poverty and exclusion. They liberate themselves of this unfavorable interpretation and are turning it into something beautiful. Their act of appropriating a cheerless word by altering its meaning is an act of inspiration.Alice Smeets
I normally don’t go this in depth with a decks meaning or back story because not only is this a unique deck with a unique story… but this will come into play later…
Trust me 🙂
I had little to no expectations with this deck as I had not exposed myself to much, if any, content about it. I had only come across some of the images of the deck on random occasions and that planted the seed. You know that seed…. the one that just grows and grows in your brain until its late one night and after 2 glasses of wine your whipping out the credit card to do some online shopping 🙂
I was really impressed with the quality of the deck overall. If you’ve been following me for some time you know I’m a sucker for a good quality deck! I like that it comes in a durable box. The cardstock is a nice thick stock but not too obnoxious to make it difficult to shuffle. As you can see pictured right: the cards are bigger than your average tarot size (which I like) It’s more of what I would consider to be a standard oracle deck size!
Honoring the Haitian culture and it’s Atis Rezistans we see a slight alteration to the suits. Pentacles and cups remain the same while wands become brooms and swords become machetes. I kinda like this little switch up 🙂 The brooms in particular give me those ‘Wizard of Oz’ vibes for some reason!
I like that the deck and it’s creators wanted to stick with items found in the country BUT I was a little thrown off as to why these particular items ( seem ) photoshopped into the images? No…I’m not a professional so I have no PROOF…but I’ve been around the forest a time or two and I can spot when things have been transposed into an image. There seems to be somewhat of a disconnect ( to me ) as to why if using items from the island then did you feel the need to photoshop some of them in? And it’s not with every card, just certain ones… makes my head turn a little!
There are quite a few cards throughout the deck that I really enjoy! I can see most of this work being displayed in an art gallery giving recognition and raising awareness about this culture. Quite a few of the cards even made me smile really big. There is something refreshing about the raw nature of the photography which not only shows off the lives of the people within the country but has this fun playful tone to it.
I suppose I take way too many things in life too seriously and always have a hyper-critical eye out for everything. Through Smeet’s photography it allows me to let go of the need for perfection and just accepting things as they are! Understanding that the scene, the actors, artists are all imperfectly perfect. Overall I can see that most of characters read to me that they had fun playing this ‘role’ and creating art for this deck!
The more I thought, the more some of the images started to bother me. Well… maybe ‘bother’ is not the right word to use; maybe I just felt a bit disappointed?
We the viewer have SUCH a UNIQUE opportunity to be able to look into the lives of the Haitian community through this art, and now that I have read and understand a little of the back story it leaves me wanting MORE! This is a glimpse into their lives that I necessarily wouldn’t get unless I travel to Haiti (which I have no intention of doing lol) and although I appreciate that they have created this art it kinda leaves me a little bit at a loss.
The suit of Pentacles resonated the most with me for this example as pentacles represent the material world. Wealth, home, career etc… and while the deck aims at honoring the traditional RWS imagery by recreating it through their live art I feel like it’s almost a lost opportunity for us to be given a REAL life example of this!
The particular cards pictured right I personally would have LOVED to see an actual ‘Nat Geo’ moment of capturing an image of the cards message happening in real life. These particular cards addressing saving or protecting wealth, craftsmenship and building, poverty and altruism are all images I feel could have been captured in a more authentic way!
Now I KNOW….. I KNOW…. then it wouldn’t have made sense because if the deck was honoring the traditional images that Pixie created then it wouldn’t fit into that theme…
But maybe…. the more I think about it maybe I would have appreciated if the deck just didn’t do that at all! We have so much background and so much rich informational giving us a look into the lives of the community and celebrating their culture through art…..and then we just turn it into a traditional translation???
I don’t know… what do YOU think ? I just think it would have been really nice to capture those real life authentic moments and translate that into a deck would have just REALLY honored the community. Am I wrong ?!? Of course I’m not wrong lol it’s my opinion… idk what do YOU think?