Slow Holler: queer/Southern artists tell their stories through tarot

We tend to think of tarot as a tool for divination or self-exploration

But one of the coolest things about tarot is that a deck is also a hand-held exhibition of (usually) 78 miniature works of art.

Isn’t that awesome? Every year it seems more and more artists – and increasingly collective groups of artists – turn to tarot as a medium for their artwork, so every year the world of tarot decks and art is further diversified and re-interpreted.

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Slow Holler is a creative collective of artists and makers based in North Carolina but with members all over the South and further afield. Their latest project is a collaborative tarot deck created by artists with queer, Southern or both identities.

The deck is currently in production and the Kickstarter is live, with a launch party in Durham NC to get the fun started (which I’ll be going to, whoop! You should all come to!)

I contacted artist and organiser E Henderson to ask them to share the story so far…

Me: What was your journey into tarot – is it something you’ve always done? Did tarot bring you to art, or did art bring you to tarot, so to speak? How do you use tarot?

E: My personal experiences with tarot have been more recent. I had a handful of casual experiences with tarot before working on this project that felt uncanny, a little magic, and like it drew me closer to the people I was reading cards with. I like the thought that tarot can be very personal and introspective, but it can also connect people.

E Henderson working on the Three of Knives. E is from a small town in SC and lives in Greensboro, NC

E Henderson working on the Three of Knives. E is from a small town in SC and lives in Greensboro, NC

Folks working on this project have different levels of familiarity with tarot. Some contributors have practiced tarot for a long time or do readings frequently for others, while other contributors are beginning to learn about tarot for the first time as a part of this project. We’re all learning things from each other. Including contributors with different levels of experience helps us to imagine a deck that is tied to the meaning from traditional decks but will be more relatable across different times and experiences.

Me: Could you explain a little about the ideas behind this project – why you decided to create a deck centred on queer and/or Southern identities, and what those identities mean to you?

E: The deck is not necessarily Southern or queer themed. We are a unique collection of voices telling the stories of these cards. We all have Southern ties or identify as queer or both. There’s a lot of complexity to any identity and the way a particular identity overlaps with other identities that a person holds.

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The Star, illustration by Sierra Kozman / The Devil, illustration by Steph Damiano / Awakenment, (traditionally Judgement), illustration by Miranda Pfeiffer / The World, illustration by Ayden

Slow Holler is part of a bigger idea. I think there is a longstanding pattern in the US of hushing, ridiculing and misrepresenting Southern and also queer voices. I grew up rurally in the pines and sand of South Carolina. At a fairly young age I learned to be embarrassed by the soft drawl of my words, and those of the people around me. I felt an undercurrent of shame about where I came from. Across the US and in popular culture, the South and its people are often portrayed as cruel, stupid, backwards, one-dimensional. But really, Southerners have varied and complex identities. We tell stories to stay awake. We tell stories to communicate. It is how we come to know each other. It is a part of our culture. We may be black, brown, white, queer, undocumented. We come from swamps, foothills, and sandy pines. We have different histories and experiences, but we came from this place and we shape this place.

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The Magician, illustration by Animal Remains / The Kindred (traditionally The Empress) illustration by Ginny Maki

Storytelling as a form of communicating and of understanding is a special part of Southern culture. I think involving so many folks with Southern ties and identities will bring a storytelling quality to the deck. Including so many queer identified folks on the deck helps us to dismantle and re-imagine constrictive gender binary narratives that can be so prevalent in history and culture, and in traditional tarot decks. I think in some ways our commonalities as contributors help tie it together – while our varying experiences and histories will help us make a deck that can feel like a home to other folks with complex and layered identities.

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Nic. Jenkins working on The Sun. Nic. is from Walterboro, SC and lives in Columbia, SC

Me: Where does the name ‘Slow Holler’ come from?

E: A slow building yell. An amplification of queer and Southern voices and the intersections where queer and Southern overlap. The name also has a little wordplay since holler can also be a place, especially a place of refuge or safety.

Me: I see you’ve got Corina Dross on board, which is awesome – I love her work! The other artists on the website I don’t recognise. Can you give me an overview of who’s involved and what they’re bringing to the project?

E: The artists involved have a variety of backgrounds: tattoo artists, comic and zine artists, people with nomadic tendencies, people who scrape out time from busy lives to make things, a few career artists. There are also 3 writers who are collaborating on writing the book that is part of the deck. All of the writers have a good deal of experience with tarot. I think their writing voices and knowledge of tarot will harmonize well.

Process - The Oracle - O Horvath

I love that all of the artists have different styles and different ways of visual storytelling. I am so very stoked about every single artist on the project. A few names folks might recognize are Beatriz Mendoza, who has been a member of the Beehive Collective. She lives on a farm in NC, and her work is stunning. Miranda Pfeiffer is from Charlotte, NC and lives/works in Los Angeles now. She makes imaginative and beautifully detailed graphite drawings that she sometimes turns into gif animations. Vanessa Adams is a dear friend, printmaker and zinemaker from New Orleans, L.A. I’m completely in love with her work. Kai Barrow is a force, longtime activist and artist with ties to Durham, NC.

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Vanessa Adams, New Orleans, LA working on Temperance

I feel so humbled and inspired by the environments and characters that she evokes. I wish there was space here to talk about every contributing artist. I am also incredibly grateful to all the friends, loves, acquaintances and strangers who have provided encouragement, help, time and support to move the project forward. The project could not happen without the work that is often unseen.

Me: So – schedule. Where is the deck right now and do you have any idea when it will be finished?

E: We have 28 artists, 3 writers and so many other contributors who have been vital to forming and continuing the project. Right now 18 cards are done. The final deck will come wrapped in a printed hanky, which is already illustrated. At the moment, we’re focusing nearly all of our efforts on pre-selling decks by sharing the Kickstarter.

Successful Kickstarter funding will allow us to secure funds for printing the deck in the US and provide a modest payment to the artists and writers working on the project. Any surplus funds from Kickstarter or deck sales will act as seed funding for future Slow Holler projects. When the Kickstarter is over we will be able to focus on finishing the art for the deck and writing the book of card descriptions that comes with it.

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Fortuna, illustration by Hilary Flint / The Star, illustration by Sierra Kozman / Three of Knives, illustration by E Henderson / Death, illustration by Kay Kelley / The World, illustration by Ayden

Artists will have 1.5 month deadlines on each of their cards and the writers will work as we go along. We will also schedule in the graphic production and layout work as the remaining illustrations come in. We are working on this as a part of active lives and in addition the work that meets our basic needs. It will take some time. Doing this work is important to us. We have a plan and will get it done.

Me: How do you imagine people will use this deck – as a divination tool, as a work of art…both? Do you have specific aims for how the deck will be used?

E: One of our goals with this deck is for the cards to be easy to understand, whether or not the person interacting with it has lots knowledge about tarot. During the early planning stages of the project, contributor D. Straughan shared a little tarot history with me, explaining that decks traditionally use pictures so that people could read the meanings of the cards without having to read or write. This felt like a beautiful and powerful idea to me. I think in many ways, decks with more traditional imagery have become hard to understand or read without having a literacy of the conventions behind the pictures and the symbols.

We are re-imagining many of the symbols and using visual storytelling with the hopes of showing each card’s meaning in an emotional, intuitive way.

The way every person relates to a deck is very personal. I hope people will use the deck in ways that make sense to the way they experience the world. In one person’s hands it may be an art object or something they relate to in a casual way. In another person’s hands it may be a sacred object that is used for divination or self reflection.

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The Storm (traditionally the Tower) illustration by Kai Barrow

Me: Lastly – your launch party!! I can’t wait! Tell us about the event itself and why we should totally all come!

E: We’re having a launch party at the Pinhook in Durham, NC on March 28.

We’re setting up a pop up gallery with poster sized prints of each completed card. We’ll have a set or two of card prototypes on hand to look at. There will also be a merch table, with special merch that won’t be available through the Kickstarter. We’re giving away door prizes, including a deck (pending Kickstarter completion). We’ll give away the posters from the pop-up gallery near the end of the night too. Last but not least, there’ll be a sweaty dance party with 4 badass DJ’s.

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Excited yet? I am! Here’s where you can find out more about the Slow Holler tarot deck and follow the creators all over the interwebs:

Website: slowholler.com

Facebook: facebook.com/slowholler

Tumblr: slowholler.tumblr.com

Instagram instagram.com/slowholler

Most importantly of all, you can contribute to the creation of this deck (and get awesome goodies!) via the Kickstarter – go go go! funding.slowholler.com

 

6 comments

  1. I saw the website for this deck maybe a week or two ago and I got really excited. It’s cool to see Beatriz Mendoza involved; we have a Mesoamerica Resiste poster on the ceiling above our bed :)

    Now that I see the Kickstarter page for it (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1093566/slow-holler-tarot-deck?ref=discovery) I have some reservations though. I see the funding they want is $55,000. That’s more than I’ve seen any tarot deck funding campaign ask for… Certainly some have received that much (Prisma Visions comes to mind), and I really like that they want to pay their artists for the work, but as a bare minimum goal it still seems ambitious. Also there’s the fact that it’s not going to be ready for almost 2 years :( I appreciate that they respect that their contributors have other commitments and want to be efficient with time/energy investments, but it’s really hard for low-income me to fork over $50 on a project where I can’t even see the vast majority of cards; I really want a usable deck. I love what I’ve seen so far in terms of aesthetics though…

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Hey, personally I’m really happy to see artists asking for what they’re worth to deliver an amazing project – even thought it seems ambitious. $46 is the contribution to get a deck once its complete which feels reasonable to me, though I totally get that it’s not affordable to all.

      We get to thinking that tarot decks should be $20, but this price tends to be for decks mass printed in China and sold through big companies like Amazon… to print these decks on super quality stock in the USA will cost a whole lot – money I doubt the artists of Slow Holler have available.

      I feel like these guys have done their sums, worked out what it *actually* costs to deliver this project, and are unafraid to go for it.

      • I don’t mind paying $46 for a deck–I’ve bought a couple decks in that range (and more) over the years. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to ask at all–I know the deck is worth $46! It’s just, for me, $46 is a lot to put down for a deck where I can’t even see the vast majority of the cards. It’s really important to me to know what I’m getting, and in this case it just seems like an amount of variable that I’m uncomfortable with. I really respect how they’re going about the project vis-a-vis paying their artists and I know they have good reasons for the big lead time. I also think, wow, $55,000 is a lot to raise for the absolute bare minimum. I hope they can do it. Maybe maybe if they put out a few more card during the campaign I’ll be convinced to fund it :)

  2. Elisabeth says:

    What a great project! Thanks for writing about it!
    I totally want to fund this project when I have the cash. I want that deck And that hanky! Seriously, how awesome is that hanky?!

  3. Cecilia says:

    As soon as I saw the words Slow Holler Tarot on your Twitter about this, I knew it had to be from the South. I’m an Southerner living in the UK and simply reading those words made my heart leap. The video brought cold chills and tears. That is my South. My Scot/Irish ancestors immigrated to a place called The Dark Corner in upper SC and I also used to live in the mountains of NC. There is a deep magic in the South that I’ve never encountered anywhere else I’ve lived. I can hardly wait for this deck to be released.

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