Tarot cards have been in circulation for centuries within different cultural communities. Records for tarot have been dated back to 1440, including evidence of a Bridge-like game known as Tarocchi that was popular amongst nobles of that time.  

In the late 14th and 15th Century, tarot has been tied to Egyptian lore and Jewish mystical tradition. The Rider-Waite deck, first published in 1909, became popular among Americans. In 2022 this deck is now used by a new generation as part of a wider trend towards mindfulness.

The black cat for “The Queen of Wands” is made out of used car tires. Image courtesy of designboom.

Ghetto Tarot is a photographic interpretation of the well-known traditional Rider-Waite-Smith tarot card deck. The cards are set in the Haitian ghetto, recreating new scenes inspired by the 1909 illustrations in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck done by artist Pamela Colma-Smith. Ghetto Tarot creator Alice Smeets, with the help of the Haitian community known as Atis Rezistans, used only locally sourced materials in this new interpretation of the tarot cards.

Alice Smeets created the project with the hope of educating the public that tarot is not only practiced in the West, but also in other countries and continents. “The photo project aims to reach beyond cultural boundaries of prejudice and ignorance to achieve a much-needed transformation of the collective conscious perception of the ghetto whilst discovering the power of our own thoughts,” Smeet emphasizes. In doing so, the Haitian ghetto is presented in a positive light, showing the strengths and creativity of the community.

Behind the scenes of The Ghetto Tarot. Image courtesy of The Ghetto Tarot.

Alice Smeets and the Atis Rezistans are representing a community that had previously experienced racist discrimination — a community in a spotlight of strength and innovation — and in doing so they are addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Reduced Inequalities. Further, their project embodies Partnerships for the Goals by working together to share positive representation across borders and cultural barriers.

The “9 of Swords” is recreated in a red-painted bedroom. Image courtesy of designboom.

The term “ghetto” has two different meanings. In Haiti, ghetto means life in an impoverished area, living without financial security but abundant in family, community and solidarity. The other meaning originally came from overseas, where it was used with racist connotations to mean a disparaged part of a city inhabited by groups of minorities. In Ghetto Tarot, the Haitian community has reclaimed the term, making it their own, which they celebrate by demonstrating beauty that has been influenced by creativity and inspiration. Ghetto Tarot has a vimeo video published by MING media documenting this Haitian perspective of the ghetto.

The Ghetto Tarot by MING media. Video courtesy of Vimeo.

In 2008, Alice Smeets was awarded the Unicef Photo of the Year Award in 2008 for Ghetto Tarot, and in 2016, the book was also nominated for the German Photo Book Award. The Ghetto Tarot deck and photo book can be bought on Etsy, where the shop states: “The mission of the organization is to raise our global consciousness, teach emotional healing as well as teach the permaculture principles to restore balance on earth. The organization currently supports projects and leads efforts in Haiti, Brazil and Europe.”

“The Hermit”, “The Sun” and “The Death” cards. Image courtesy of The Ghetto Tarot.

From each sale of Ghetto Tarot on Etsy, Haitians receive 20% of the proceeds, and 80% goes to the Belgian non profit organization Consciousness Rising.

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