A strange and colourful fine-art tarot from collaborative duo Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, featuring a cast of carnivalesque characters.
In the Carnival at the End of the World Tarot, the four alchemical elements of earth, air, fire and water feature heavily in their corresponding minor arcana suits, demonstrating “the impact of climate change amid sinking islands, arsenals of armaments, blazing forests, and melting icecaps.” This tarot deck builds on earlier Khan & Selesnick projects exploring climate change and environmental devastation.
The tarot also includes six ‘bonus images’, creating an 84-card deck. The deck is printed on high quality playing card stock with curved corners for maximum durability.
“As long as people have been using Tarot cards for divination, its symbolism and methodologies have evolved to keep time with societal change. Carnival at the End of the World Tarot keeps to the Rider-Waite-Smith nomenclature and numbering for the major arcana and also presents pictorial scenes and similar suits for the pip cards for the minor arcana, but its iconography and interpretive values are appropriate to our own uncertain times.
Carnival at the End of the World Tarot is a contemporary tarot deck, a loose-leaf Book of Fate summoned from the same mythologies we have been exploring in our recent photographs, paintings and book project. In 2006, our multimedia project Eisbergfreistadt included a poker deck that when laid out in a long line, revealed a panoramic narrative of climate change and environmental devastation. In 2017, as the stakes of the Great Game have grown greater and the Anthropocene has exponentially brought change and chaos to many lives around the world, we have moved from making cards for jovial pastimes to those for divination: the Tarot, which in its traditional uses has been consulted to forecast disaster, anticipate risk, and navigate life-choices through backstage access to the Unseen.“
– Creators Kahn & Selesnick
- 84-card deck: 78 tarot cards following the traditional tarot sequence, plus six additional character cards, printed on high quality playing card stock with curved corners for maximum durability.
- Presented in a high quality custom tuck-box with colourful harlequin design.
Madam Lulu’s Book of Fate: A guidebook is also available, which can be purchased separately from Blurb, here.
We feel that one card in this deck (the Four of Wands) could potentially be interpreted as ‘blackface’, as it shows a white person wearing a black face mask. The card’s intention is to depict Arlecchino, a popular figure from the Italian Commedia dell-Arte tradition.
We believe that, regardless of an artist’s intention, once published and out in the world that intention is replaced by an individual user’s subjective interpretation – there can be no ‘objective truth’ about what a tarot card represents. We believe that artists and retailers must be accountable for this as far as possible, in particular when it comes to widely-shared traumatic history such as anti-Black racism and minstrelsy.
I (Beth) reached out to the creators about this. I found them to be very open to this conversation, welcoming this call-in and listening to my concerns about the potential impact of this image. They engaged enthusiastically with my suggestions around changing this card and adding more contextual information to the guidebook, and also consulted with their own community about this.
They confirmed that they intend to alter the card itself (completely changing the colour of the mask so it cannot be interpreted as blackface) in the next edition, whilst immediately editing their guidebook to give the card it’s context and explain its intended meaning. We have also discussed the artists’ commitment to decolonising art history, antiracism, environmental and liberatory work – this deck, and the art project it grew out of, positions itself as highly critical of our current economic system (a core reason we decided to stock it in the first place).
Though we will no longer carry this deck in its current form, we look forward to the amended future edition.