The Artists and Designers Making Tarot Decks for Today


For centuries, the playing cards have captivated seekers of all kinds — including creative types — and have become especially popular of late.

One group consistently and particularly taken with tarot is artists. The decks are a sort of art object, after all, and artists are themselves in the business of making meaning. In the early 1970s, Salvador Dalí began work on a deck featuring himself as the magician and his wife, Gala, as the Empress. In 1979, Niki de Saint Phalle began constructing her Tarot Garden, a grouping, in Italy’s Tuscan hills, of 22 large-scale concrete sculptures inspired by tarot imagery and adorned with mosaic and mirrored tiles. A standout is “The Empress,” an opulent large-breasted sphinx adorned with a crown, which served for a time as the artist’s living quarters.

Now, a new generation of artists and designers are channeling their creativity by making decks of their own, ones that reflect the current era. The New York-based artist Tattfoo Tan created his New Earth Resiliency Oracle Cards as a part of his New Earth project, an immersive, teaching-based work that instructs users in both practical skills and spiritual modalities intended to help them contend with climate change. While we might associate tarot with the celestial, to Tan it can be a tool for staying connected to nature and the seasons here on earth. Accordingly, his deck features minimalist black-and-white sketches of fog, winter and drought. For her part, the Indiana-based artist Courtney Alexander is linking tarot to the politics of representation. Disturbed by how many so-called Black tarot decks, or those depicting Black characters, were created by white artists, she set out to make one that felt more authentically inclusive. The result was her Dust II Onyx deck, the cards of which are printed with Alexander’s ornate multimedia collage paintings, works rooted in Black diasporic histories and popular culture. She gave the King of Swords, traditionally a symbol of intellect, the name Papa Blade, the face of Neil deGrasse Tyson and the eyes of George Washington Carver, and the Queen of Cups, the ruler of the emotional realm, the name Mama Gourd, the face of Missy Elliott and the eyes of the poet and activist Nikki Giovanni. “The story of Blackness deserves reverence,” Alexander says, “and to be seen as powerful.”

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