Dust II Onyx: A Melanated Tarot Deck
While I adore tarot and my life in it, I have so many decks and work with so many beautiful witches and artists in all aspects of my life, so it takes a lot to really get me going at this point. However, when I received an email from a self-described fat/black/queer woman that had their artistic vision come to them in a dream, I had to find more. I'm so thrilled I got to chat more with Courtney Alexander about the upcoming Dust II Onyx, a deck created for people struggling with the same lack of representation in a world of #tarotsowhite that Alexander chose to address.
First, I just want to know more about YOU! Tell me everything!
Well, my mom-given name is Courtney Alexander. I'm an artist and recently graduated (December 2015) with my degree in Studio Art from the University of South Florida. I'm fairly new to tarot. I've been learning a little under 2 years. I began with apps and this year I finally purchased a physical deck. I grew up Christian, and in my early 20s began my shift away from it. But I always had an aversion to tarot because of what I had been told. I was comfortable going to a clairvoyant healer, but she didn't use cards so it felt "safe". Then as I progressed in my personal journey I allowed myself to experience tarot. I realized there wasn't anything overly scary about them and recognized the tools they could be to tap into our higher consciousness. Using apps was convenient for me to try out different styles and just learn about the cards. Looking for a physical deck was a bit more difficult. Finding that one that really called to me was not easy. I settled on Aquarian Tarot by David Pallidini for my first deck and I really love it. I've always liked the Art Deco style. Plus I find his deck to be great for deeper work than the traditional Rider-Waite. I use it more for deep emotional and spiritual probing. I also have the Crystal Tarot by Lo Scarabeo. However I was unaware it was Pip-based and so I don't use it as much. But it's still beautiful and I bring it out every now and then to experiment. I have the traditional RW gifted to me by a friend for external issues and mini Angel Cards. I'm not really drawn to angel themes/imagery but these little one word cards have been invaluable in clarifying my readings. especially as a newbie reader.
Aside from tarot, I also loveee crystals. I've amassed a nice collection. I use them to grid and pair it with candle burning. I have an Aunt who has always been into the occult so she helped me learn more about the power of candle reading. I also enjoy making my own auric sprays, spiritually cleansing bath products, and creating altars. I have mini altars around my home that I construct from random items around my home. The process of putting together things with what I have (and just a few purchased small items) really helps me connect with my intentions. It's been a very effective focus tool for me.
You mentioned to me struggling for awhile to see yourself in the cards, even when you decided to make your own deck. Can you say more about that, and go ahead and go into how your vision for Dust II Onyx came to be?
I'm at this point in my spiritual journey where I've shed a lot of misconceptions about ritual practices. Most of my exposure has been in "new age" spaces, so of course meditation, crystals, and energy healing is where I started. Then through my art I began to explore West African cultures. Art is intricately weaved into their culture and spiritual practices that you can't separate the two when learning about the various belief systems. African-based spiritual practices are somehow seen as darker and more dangerous than even Wiccan and Pagan practices. There's this inherent fear of the deep spirituality of African people that had created such a block in me but I had to break it down. I'm still not to the place where I work with Orishas or anything, but I realize now the importance of that energy being bought into my practices. Most spiritual spaces I occupied on and offline were very white-dominated. Although it doesn't bother me in regards to my ability to build one-on-one relationships, these spaces never made me feel completely safe and open. I couldn't talk about real issues I experience at the intersections of racism/sexism/fatphobia without being dismissed. Especially as a Black American, we have definitely been taught to distance ourselves from our spiritual roots.
I say this to say essentially representation matters. Having spaces for POC and LGBTQ is vital. We also need to see it in the art and tools we use such as tarot.
That's part of the reason why Dust II Onyx came to be. I wanted to create the kind of deck I wish I had. There are several decks with POC, but I found I wasnt drawn to some of the art or themes. Many decks seemed to references common themes like Orishas, Egypt, or the art was purposely drawn in this basic "primitive" (I shutter at the word) fashion to make it seem more indigenous inspired. None of it appealed to me. I wanted to see melanated people just be beautiful and powerful without limitation. I wanted a deck that other POC could relate too that didn't rely upon any cliches or typical themes because we are so much broader than that.
As for the art, I wasn't sure up until very recently what the cards would look like. I had two dreams about black portraits. In the dream the figures were completely black. The figures were matte with these high gloss highlights that brought the figure forth. It was gorgeous. The black on black made the figures barely noticeable, but intense. The clothing was so lusciously painted with what I’d guess was oil paint, in these deep jewel tones. I plan on doing some separate paintings more in the exact style of what was in my dream. Either way it still was a great inspiration for this deck and not far from what I had been moving into already in regards to my artistic process.
What's the process of building a deck been like?
It's been quite a journey so far. I produced 18 of the cards in a very short amount of time, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I'd do and plan out details but that didn't work. I had a deadline set for myself since I wanted to premiere them at a local art event. Once I began working they all just came to me intuitively. I didn't spend too much time researching in regards to symbolism or anything. I had enough knowledge from my own tarot use to understand the energy of the cards and some common references. Aside from that, I just decided to work with what I had; my pastels, acrylic and piles of fashion magazines. The cards I struggled with the most were the cards that I also struggled with in my spiritual life (for example, the Magician). Creating these has deepened my personal understanding of the cards so much. What comes forth is as new to me as it is to everyone else. So I have to go back and interpret my own creation. Using the Magician card for example, I wasn't sure what the hell I was doing. It looked like some weird man child. But as I meditated on it I realized the Magician is like a child. Children have no sense of limitation until we put it on them. They use what's at their disposal to create their world. There's also a connection between the scales texture of the clothing and the infinity signs throughout. It reminds me of Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. It references alchemy, the infinite and wholeness. All of these details were not thought of or planned. It's cool to go back and see how the work is being created from a space beyond my own consciousness.
What else do you want us to know about this deck that you haven't gotten to say yet?
That it is something that I feel is seriously being birthed from me. Not just a baby in terms of my ownership of this project. But more-so in this way where events in my life have brought me to what feels like a fated point. Before this deck was created I had been going through a lot of stress. I was dealing with anxiety and depression on a level I hadn't for a long time. Then I noticed my dreams and card readings all pointing towards birth and I honestly thought I was pregnant, LOL. I was afraid it was a real baby. Looking back I believe it was Dust II Onyx. If the chain of events never transpired in my life the work would not be what it is. So I'm dedicated to bringing it forth. It wants to be out there and it's informing me of what it wants to be every step of the way.
A personal goal I have is to bring the artwork for this deck into the contemporary gallery space. As an artist I love creating experiences. I've had the desire to fulfill a particular solo exhibition project for awhile now and this deck art will definitely be a part of it. I want to transform the modern gallery space into an immersive and spiritual experience, as well as use it as a platform to introduce more people to the beauty of tarot.
How can we best support this deck and your tarot efforts?
Share with anyone you know would appreciate the work. Talk about it in your communities. Reach out to me with resources or suggestions. Preorder, preorder, preorder. Kickstarter is my way of being accountable to everyone who wants to support this project. There's a risk of not meeting the KS goal and therefore receiving nothing. But that is also the exciting part. It's not just a push to sell. When the public is excited about what you have to offer they want to see you succeed, so it's a bit more than just dropping money in the bucket. It's all of us pooling together to make this project a reality. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Kickstarter funds will go towards production, print, shipping, campaign fees, and limited first edition run of the deck. Any leftover funds will be seed money for a 2nd edition of the deck and a companion book. I look forward to this project opening doors to other opportunities to not only share my work in general, but to also offer more to the tarot community. I've already had visions for another deck to come once this project is complete so this is only the beginning. I'm so grateful for the love and support I've received so far. There is so much more amazing work to come and I'm super excited about it!
- Sign up for email updates at http://dust2onyx.launchrock.com
Thanks so much to Courtney for letting us know about this deck and sharing her important vision and art with the the world. I'm so excited to see how things develop. And don't forget:
Blessed be, all.