The Artists Recreating the Tarot Deck for the 21st Century
A team of four female curators brought over 70 artists together to create a new, more diverse tarot deck for an upcoming London exhibition. See exclusive images from the deck.
Nine of Cups, by Lauren Crow
"I feel like a lot of women in their mid-late twenties have this nostalgia for witchcraft or the occult, and it's partly due to growing up with films like The Craft or shows about being a teen witch," explains Ione Gamble, the co-curator of a forthcoming tarot-inspired art show and the editor-in-chief of Polyester magazine. "Witchcraft and being a teen witch was weirdly aspirational for so many of us growing up. Like, you're only a real outcast if you're a witch."
I've asked Gamble to explain why so many women are turning to alternate forms of spirituality: the occult, the tarot, sex magic, and regular old witchcraft. Even as we move inexorably towards a neoliberal, late-capitalist view of society—a view based on Enlightenment ideals of masculine rationality and bolstered by the astonishing technological advances of recent decades—many pull away towards spiritual pursuits conventionally gendered as female.
"I don't think that people who are interested in witchcraft or the tarot necessarily believe in it," Gamble argues. "It's more about women and other marginalized groups coming together and looking outside traditional patriarchal ways of viewing the world."
To this end, Gamble—along with co-curators Liv Thurley, Laurence Philomene of feminist art collective The Coven, and Isabella Podpadec from the British-Icelandic punk-pop band Dream Wife—have brought together over 70 known and unknown young artists to reimagine the tarot deck for the 21st century.
The resulting exhibition, What Does Our Future Hold?, features work from artists and designers such as Maisie Cousins, Hobbes Ginsberg, Clio Peppiatt, and Grace Miceli. Opening in London this weekend, we caught up with Gamble from her South London base to find out what the tarot can teach us about 2017, and had a look at some exclusive images from the forthcoming show.
BROADLY: Hi Ione, thanks for speaking with us. What made you choose tarot?
Ione Gamble: My co-curator Isabella [Thurley] has practiced tarot throughout her life, as has Laurence [Philomene], and Isabella particularly is someone who'll bring her tarot cards out at parties and start reading for everyone. I feel that tarot is a way for women to talk and share their lives, even if they don't necessarily believe in it. It's not about reading your future so much as a way of talking about your experiences and what's happening to you. But—although the main tarot deck was created for women—the cards haven't been updated for such a long time. We're still working with really old imagery.
Tarot offers an opportunity for self-reflection. How important was it for you to integrate a political awareness in the exhibition, going into 2017?
It feels like a good time in general for self-reflection, given everything that happened politically in 2016. A lot of artists began to think about what place their art should have in the world, given how turbulent everything is right now. There's also so much negativity at the moment: People saying, "What's the point of making art," or feeling downtrodden and sad. It felt like a nice gesture to bring together a community of artists, in the same way you'd come together with your friends if you were reading tarot cards.
How did you choose the artists for the show?
We wanted a mix of more established artist and then newer talent. We also wanted to be diverse both in terms of the artists—having different genders and races. Diversity was really central to the exhibition: When we briefed the artists to create the cards we asked them to design with diversity in mind, so that the actual tarot deck itself would be representative of a broad range of people. In terms of the deck itself, we've matched each card to a particular artist—the hope is that people will literally be able to purchase it and use it themselves.
Why do you think it's important to embrace the occult, witchcraft, and alternate models of female spirituality?
One thing I like about this renewed interest in witchcraft and the occult is that we're coming to recognize more broadly that women aren't always inherently good or nice. The occult allows women to embrace their darker sides, and the idea of the sociopathic or evil women can be powerful. It's good for feminist rhetoric to move away from the idea that to be a feminist you have to be nice all the time. It's important to accept there are evil, nasty women in the world who aren't that perfect version of femininity.
The show only runs for one night—is this down to financial reasons? The shortage of affordable art spaces in London is well-known.
It's really fucking difficult to find spaces in London. People see all these group shows which have drinks sponsorship and they think it's easy to put on a DIY space, but it's so hard. The exhibition only runs for one night because we don't have the money to pay for extended periods in galleries. There's a huge lack of accessible spaces in London, and the same can probably be said for cities all over.
What Does Our Future Hold? opens for one night only, on Saturday 7 January at Dye House 451. Any proceeds from print and tarot deck sales will go to anti-domestic violence campaigners Sisters Uncut.