It’s frustrating to me that in 2019 we don’t see remotely accurate depictions of diversity in our media. Whether it is gender, age, ability, physique – there are countless perspectives to learn from. This deck is my humble attempt to fill in some gaps.Genevieve Barbee-Turner
Inspired by her home city of Pittsburgh (USA), Genevieve Barbee-Turner has filled her tarot deck with the communities she lives and works among.
The colourful, modern Bridge Witches Tarot is built on themes of community care and social justice. These themes echo through every card, producing a deck that celebrates pride, resilience, lineage, and hums with community spirit, whilst exploring the effects of gentrification and ‘development’ on urban spaces and their people.
Though these images are in part an homage to Pittsburgh USA, city-dwellers the world over will relate to the messages that shine through the people and places shared here. It is a loving and deeply political tarot that will no doubt appeal to fans of the Delta Enduring Tarot and the Next World Tarot.
As soon as I laid eyes on this deck, I knew it was one for Little Red Tarot, and I’m excited to announce it has gone on sale today. You can check it out in the shop right here!
To celebrate this new addition to the LRT family, I talked with Genevieve about the process of creating it.
The images in this post show some of my personal favourite cards, but if you’d like to see the whole deck, I recommend Kristin’s ‘flip-through’ of the Bridge Witches Tarot over on YouTube (which is where I first spotted it!)
So – Bridge Witches is spiritually rooted in your home city of Pittsburgh, and it feels like such a heartfelt homage to the people and places you call home. What it is about your city that inspired you to turn it into a tarot deck?
I’m originally from a small town in Southern Virginia. Growing up I was incredibly focused on leaving and felt that anything in the northern part of the country would do. My mother is from Pittsburgh and I wound up at Carnegie Mellon University for Art.
I made the right call. Pittsburgh proved to be a little gem tucked away in the hilly terrain of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Roughly the same population as Zurich, it sits at the convergence of three rivers pointing West. This symbolic confluence is where the rushed and cramped cities of the East Coast blend into the slow and endless expanse of the Midwest. It is rife with transitionary energy.
By 2012 I was facing my own transition in Pittsburgh. I was lost and unsure of my path. So, I picked up a microphone and began to ask other people about what they were doing here and why they stayed. I felt the urge to document who was here and how it was shaking out for everyone. One thing became really clear to me: there has always been more happening in Pittsburgh than Andy Warhol, sports, and pierogis. Stories from marginalized communities have been playing out here for just as long as the white cis-gender centric narrative. Bridge Witches was born from the need to reveal those stories.
Even with all that said, it doesn’t feel as though you need to know Pittsburgh in order to appreciate or use this deck. (Personally I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, but just felt such an immediate love for your illustrations.) Beyond your fellow city-folk, who do you imagine using and enjoying this deck?
At this point, I’ve sold more decks outside of Pittsburgh than to those who currently reside here. (Especially Michigan… Michigan really likes me!) From a historical standpoint it makes a lot of sense as there are large populations of ex-Pittsburghers and their descendants in different places around the world (my own mother included). Sometimes it feels like we are a small country that generations ago had a large exodus and now have settlements far and wide. Regardless of your connection however, I think the narrative of a once broken city rebuilding from ruin is one that plays out across the world. For every Paris there are thousands of Pittsburghs.
It’s frustrating to me that in 2019 we don’t see remotely accurate depictions of diversity in our media. Whether it is gender, age, ability, physique – there are countless perspectives to learn from. This deck is my humble attempt to fill in some gaps. I can’t claim to represent everyone but I do hope that people can relate to what I’ve shared here. This is why I create limited editions of this deck – substituting different stories for new ones regularly.
Finally, I see the Fool’s journey through the tarot as a tale of personal recovery. That is a huge theme in my deck. I believe that we are searching for a connection to something bigger than our own individual spirit. Tarot is the tool we can use to seek that greater connection and understand our own story. I don’t think the cards tell us anything we don’t already know. I intentionally use the format of the Rider-Waite as a loose guideline so anyone familiar can jump in without too much issue. I also changed a few things that I wasn’t nuts about in the RW. (I’m looking at you, Judgement card… yikes.)
One thing that really draws me to the deck is how incredibly human it feels – I know from the guidebook that many of the figures we see in these cards are real people from communities you’ve lived and worked in. Did you tell people that you were turning them into tarot cards?
Yes and no. Many cards are enthusiastic friends and neighbors who were pumped about being included (the branch manager of my local library, a member of my bookclub, my mother and baby brother, etc.). Some people are amalgamations of a few different folks. Some faces were inspired by people I passed on the street who I will never see again but they stood out in my memory.
For historical figures that had no recorded picture I used my imagination. The Six of Cicadas is based on the parking meter ladies who would come to a place I worked at long ago. They gave out tickets along the block, parked like jerks themselves, and then would come to lunch. It was infuriating but also really funny to me. Our mayor is in the deck but I haven’t really brought it up with him. He is featured as a symbol of what he represents here more than his actual character (he is a very nice person even if I don’t always agree with him).
Do you have a favourite ‘character’ or any cards that have extra-special meaning for you?
I get this question a lot! Instead of a fav character I have cards that I loved drawing. Long nights were spent working on these all by my lonesome and they became my friends (that sounds so sad!) Death, Ten of Cups, Ten of Trees are three that stick with me. It’s hard to explain but I really got in the zone while drawing these and they came together really well.
Death features a zombie (the first zombie movie ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was made here) but references the many yoga studios that were popping up across town. One such studio had this little clothing rack with one lonely tank top hanging in the window and on it that said #grateful which made me laugh every time I walked by. I gave my little zombie that tank, a cigarette and a little kale wreath above a wrought fence. There is so much about gentrification versus revitalization in that card…
The deck looks so painterly and the images so tactile, I was amazed to discover that it’s painted digitally! Can you tell us a little about that process, how you create your images?
I was trained in painting, drawing, and printmaking so Photoshop was very new to me when I started this deck. I used this project to teach myself how to use the program actually! My technical ability has evolved A LOT since I started the deck but I eventually discovered that I can work in Photoshop the same way that I work on a canvas: line drawing, value, color, refine (repeat 77 more times).
Before I got to the digital part though, I crafted images in my sketchbook. I work really dirty so the images I’ve shared reveal how fast and desperate I am to get the idea out of my head an on to the page. Sometimes I would scan the drawing and use it as an underdrawing. Other times I sketched on my iPad and went from there.
What about your tarot story – are you a long-term tarot lover, or is this a new/ish chapter for you? How did you come across tarot and how do you use it?
Growing up in Southern Virginia in what is referred to as the “Bible Belt” I was taught to fear the occult. So like any good baby-goth / artistic kid I became obsessed with it!
In my youth there were people my age who had a bit of a gatekeeping attitude about spirituality and connecting with the cards which was a barrier to me using them. As an adult I met my friend Erin who had been reading the cards for 15 years and she reintroduced me to them – removing those barriers that had been in place. She showed me how to use them as a tool for reflective thought and we would sit for hours talking about tarot history, spirituality, identity, and art. She shared with me countless different tarot and oracle decks which inspired mine in so many ways. She also helped with some of the writing for the early cards and saw my many attempts to learn how to use Photoshop.
I don’t like to read people’s cards for money. I am an illustrator first and prefer to be alone with my work. It takes a lot of emotional energy for me to work with a stranger. When I have had an event, I work with incredibly talented local readers who I feel are far more skilled than I am. That being said, I do read for my friends and love connecting with them over the cards. It’s an incredibly intimate experience.
What do you get up to when you’re not illustrating?
I am an avid reader (like about a book a week) and it’s really a huge passion of mine. Drawing and reading are both childhood passions that have only become more intense as I’ve gotten older. Otherwise, I’m having a desperate affair with my Xbox One X.
Where can else can we find you online?
I stream my digital process online via Twitch I’m on there Monday through Thursday regularly. I’m currently working on a really weird project featuring the zodiac. I LOVE talking with people in the chat about the most random things.
I’m also on Instagram @ki11erpancak3. I really enjoy connecting with other creative folks there too (someone is squatting on ki11erpancake!!)
I post weekly updates from my sketchbook and have resurrected my newsletter which can be found at ki11erpancake.com.