Have you ever experienced a Tarot card reading? Belgian photographer and filmmaker Alice Smeets will make you think of the magical cards in a different light in her latest project. With a group of artists who grew up in downtown Port-au-Prince, Atis Rezistans, Smeets set out to recreate the spirit of traditional, illustrated Tarot cards using found materials and the local community in Haiti as an inspirational backdrop.
Based on the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, one of the most popular Tarot decks in use today, Smeets and Atis Rezistans depicted the set of supernatural scenes originally designed by artist Pamela Colman Smith in 1910. Inspired by the “Ghetto Biennale,” the idea behind The Ghetto Tarot project was to collaborate with local artists to highlight the vision and skills of an impoverished community rather than the deficiencies.
There is a hidden beauty in the waste, and the artists and Smeets want to reveal this through The Ghetto Tarot project. We can choose to look at destruction and see despair, or we can see it as the start of something new. We can change the meaning of our words, actions, and emotions.
As Smeets says, “And isn’t the confrontation of our inner feelings and emotions what Tarot is all about?”
Smeets’ documentary photographs from Haiti are fairly well known and have won her several awards, including the Unicef Photo of the Year Award in 2008. She once lived in Haiti, and has visited regularly since 2007. The Ghetto Tarot project has given her the chance to explore the spiritual world as well as Haitian culture and its people.
“Our idea behind choosing the term “Ghetto” as a name for the deck, is to provoke a discussion around the topic…to change the often negative connotation that the word implies in our culture into a positive one…Our objective is to highlight the creativity and strength of the citizens of the Ghetto,” Smeets notes.
All of the hired artists of the Atis Rezistans group are survivalists by nature. Growing up in an “atmosphere of junkyard make-do” has turned them into artists who recycle items like TV sets, wheel hubcaps, and discarded lumber in order to create powerful sculptures. They often created props from locally sourced materials on the spot for Smeets’ photographs, such as the lantern for the Hermit, which was made out of an old metal can, or the black cat made out of used car tires for the Queen of Wands. In addition to their ability to scavenge, their spiritual side and understanding of voodoo symbolism also helped in developing The Ghetto Tarot project.
After an initial successful Indiegogo campaign to produce the modern deck of cards for pre-order, Smeets is currently seeking a second round of funding to make it possible for decks to be pre-ordered as well as the development of a website, where all of the information, photos, and behind-the-scenes videos can live online. Site visitors will also be able to watch short videos about the artists’ lives in the Haitian ghetto.
Watch a video about the project below:
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