Pick a card, any card. But if you want our advice on what card to pick, we recommend one that’s radically inclusive and lovingly photographed. Tarot readings have long represented an alternative avenue to spirituality for people who reject establishment religion, but the decks themselves usually feature exclusively white, cis-gendered bodies or heterosexual perspectives.
Harlem-based artist Kendrick Daye created the Black Queer Tarot in order to bring a diverse cast of muses to the traditional Tarot deck. The result is stunning. Kendrick photographed seventy-eight subjects and used his signature collage technique to place his models into imaginative landscapes that evoke heat, liberation, fantasy, and power. We sat down with the artist to learn more about the project and understand his creative process.
How did you come up with the idea for this campaign?
I initially was just looking for a deck for myself and I couldn’t find anything that looked like something I would want. If it was queer deck, it only had a white focus and if it was Black deck, it was very heterosexually focused. I wanted something that could fit both of those worlds because those are both of my words. People sometimes ask me if I’m more of a Black person or more of a queer person. Those questions make no sense to me because I show up in the world as both of those things. I can’t compartmentalize. I get that other people can compartmentalize certain aspects of their personality, but to me, both of those parts make up who I am. So I wanted a deck that reflected that.
How did you become interested in Tarot?
I’ve been exploring the spiritual and intangible aspects of the world as I work on my personal growth. As a Black queer person, I never really felt like religion was something that I could use as a tool. Instead, I became enamored with esoteric things on the fringe, like astrology and numerology. I got obsessed with personality tests like Meyers-Briggs and Enneagram. I use these tools to figure myself out, understand how I relate to the world, and improve how I interact with my surroundings. And that led me to Tarot. I got my first reading a few years ago from Justin Henry, who is helping with this project and consulting on the book.
You interpret every card in the Tarot as a portrait, and each card is stunning. Tell us about your process.
I’m a mixed media collage artist, and while that was always going to be part of the final artwork, I wanted each image to be centered around an original photograph. I actually started collaging by way of photography, so I had the experience and equipment to do that. I put a call up on Instagram looking for models and the response was overwhelming. I was not expecting to get so many responses. I did most of the portraits in New York, where I live, and we were extremely cautious to keep each session safe during COVID. I got to have one-on-one time with people as I photographed them, and that helped me intuit what part of the arcana they should represent. I don’t think I would have gotten that insight if I hadn’t taken the portraits myself and just had people submit photos. I personally can find something beautiful in anyone. I want people to look simultaneously beautiful and desirable, but also still in control and very powerful. And ironically enough, all the people that I photographed picked up on that. So even when they were shy at first, they understood that they had to open up for the process to happen and they had to be vulnerable because that’s that’s the shot I’m looking for.
How did you choose your subjects?
I was adamant about the cards being representative of a wide range of Black people. I wanted these cards to be as inclusive as possible, because this project is about my community and I want as many people as possible to be able to see themselves in this work. That means representing as many body types, life experiences, sexualities, genders, and skin tones as I can. I wanted all of the bases to be covered without it being without it seeming like anyone is being tokenized.
Why did you choose crowdfunding?
This is a community-based project. As much as it is about the deck itself, it’s also a labor of love for my community. It just felt hypocritical to make something like this and then feel the community wouldn’t support it if I put it out there like that. I talked about this project with people before launching the campaign, and realized that this is something that can have legs. This is something that people are interested in and I shouldn’t be scared to share it. I was still petrified, but crowdfunding was definitely the right way to go. The universe has opened up in so many ways as a result of me doing this crowdfunding campaign. It feels like all the people that have donated and shared the campaign are invested in the success of this project. Even though I was spearheading it, it feels like I have like a whole little nation that’s like looking out.
What made you decide to crowdfund on Indiegogo?
When I was researching different crowdfunding sites, I just saw so much stuff on Indiegogo that felt like what I was already doing or what this project was trying to do. So it just felt like a home. And the platform is very easy and user friendly, which is important when you think about how crowdfunding is supposed to be at its core. Someone like my mom should be able to have an idea and put it up on a crowdfunding site without needing to have advanced tech knowledge just to get a campaign page up.
There’s more to this project than the deck itself. Tell us about the other aspects of your campaign.
Yes! We’re releasing a guidebook that people can use to do their own Tarot readings. My friend Justin has been spearheading that and acting as spiritual advisor to this whole project. We’re also putting out a short film documenting the photoshoots. When my friend saw my initial flyer looking for models, she said that she wanted to photograph the process, and that turned into the short film that we’re about to release. The trailer is on our campaign page. It will be about eight minutes in total and released in two parts.
Interested in supported The Black Queer Tarot? Donate to the campaign today.