The Last Kieth’s Alley Mural is Complete – Unboxing the “Tarot of America”
On the morning of Monday March 1, a mural depicting George Floyd in Kieth’s Alley was found vandalized, with white paint torn on Floyd’s face.
Local muralist Pierre Nagley’s response to the desecration of his work was swift and direct. Within days, he stuck to that white spot an iconic photo of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old brutally murdered by two white men in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. The men were found not guilty and the woman subsequently recanted. Nagley said at the time that he wanted to “fight hate with love”.
Shortly after this incident, Nagley embarked on a more ambitious and ultimately more complete response to the act of hate he encountered in the alley. With his collaborator, Lindsay Burke, he began the “Tarot of America”, a mural that aims both to define the soul of the nation and to guess its fate.
The people behind the Floyd wall vandalism have not been located. But the community and its visitors have a new work through which to contemplate the workings of white supremacy in our country and our culture.
Located at the rear of the building that houses Current Cuisine / Dark Star Comics / Pangea, which has been a “free wall” since 1988, the “Tarot of America” features a host of social justice themes.
On the wall, nine cards – each representing a symbolic representation of America – are arranged in a pattern called “spread”. In its entirety, the spread is a flawless look at who America is. Each map, however, focuses on a facet of the nation.
“It’s a gap for America,” Nagley said. “What we struggle with and what Americans need.”
Nagley will talk about her new mural at a Juneteenth event on Saturday, June 19 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Beatty Hughes Park. Sponsored by Help Us Make a Nation, or HUMAN, the event is also the unveiling of Nagley’s mural on the wall of the Yellow Springs News building which honors the late local author Viriginia Hamilton with reference to her famous book “The People Could Fly “.
Dating from the 15th century, the Tarot has long been used for fortune telling. With his use of common symbols and archetypal images drawn from a variety of cultures, he can also act as a mirror of his psyche. In this case, it is the psyche of our country that is being probed.
Nagley and Burke formed the INK Arts Collective last year, which is both a local tattoo studio and an arts partnership. As Nagley finished Floyd’s mural, Burke painted the free wall with an image of a phoenix rising dramatically above the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by Floyd’s murder in 2020.
Nagley said the tarot card that inspired them to create the new mural was The Hanged Man, which traditionally shows a person hanging from one foot upside down. Although not in the mural, Nagley found it representative of African American history.
“Africans have been brought here, kept alive. They have lost their freedom, their freedom and their identity, ”he said.
Still, he chose for the first card in the broadcast something that speaks more to the modern African-American experience, depicted in the Justice card. The card shows Floyd holding the scales of justice, while another black American killed by police, Breonna Taylor, holds a feather associated with the Egyptian goddess Maat.
“She weighs the heart of America,” Nagley said.
The spreads are rolled out card to card. Nagley, in the role of reader, then explained the mural in the same way. Next is the Emperor card, which depicts former President Andrew Jackson, drawn with his mirror image flipped horizontally, much like a traditional playing card.
This reversal was intentional, Nagley said, because some tarot practitioners use “reversed” cards to indicate negative meaning. Nagley said that while the Emperor’s card may mean “a positive way to engage with the world,” backwards it indicates tyranny.
Jackson himself represents him, not least because of his much-vaunted place on the $ 20 bill.
“Thinking of the pursuit of white supremacy, he is glorified,” Nagley said.
The Seventh President of the United States, Jackson, may have owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime, and his anti-native policy is widely viewed as genocide. Nagley also showed Jackson wearing a 12-pointed star, the badge of a slave patrol. The card also shows an eagle, an American icon, holding slave chains.
The reading turns to more benevolent expressions with the Hierophant card. The term archaic translates from Greek to someone who “reveals what is sacred,” according to Nagley.
In this case, the card includes the image of the revered holy man Hunkpapa Lakota and leader Sitting Bull. Due to his political resistance to the policies of the US government, Sitting Bull was killed by police officers hired by the United States.
“The map represents the search for what is sacred in this world and the attempt to protect it,” Nagley said. “There are other authorities in this world with wisdom besides human beings.”
Another native lionized person is depicted in the Star card. Although Tecumseh’s face is not shown, the map features a panther, the Shawnee clan to which Tecumseh belonged. According to some translations, Tecumseh’s name means ‘shooting star’, another reference to the map.
“Tecumseh represents inspiration,” Nagley said. “He was one of the first to resist colonialism.”
The death card is as follows, but instead of a scythe Death makes more use of an AR-15 rifle. Emerging from the ground upon which death tramples are a disembodied head, foot and hands. According to Nagley, the head represents ideas; hands, activities; and the views of the feet, and indicate ways to overcome a metaphorical death.
“The death card really represents change,” Nagley said.
Next, the Empress card depicts Hatshepsut, one of the first Egyptian female pharaohs. It represents the feminine spirit.
“Mothers and women have been leaders, especially in the civil rights movement,” Nagley said. “So we are building on that strength. “
Meanwhile, the Two of Cups exemplifies friendship and respect.
“It shows two people from different countries meeting and sharing friendship,” Nagley said.
The next card in the spread is the 10 of Wands, the card signifying oppression in our society. Here Nagley depicted a prison cell with 10 bars, surrounded by four clocks, one in each corner, to represent “the passage of time in bondage.”
The broadcast ends on an uplifting note, with the Knight of the Wands just below the oppression, showing three natives on horseback. Nagley said this card is a “cry to the natives who have risen”. The black snake on the map represents the 2018 uprising against an oil pipeline that was to cross the Standing Rock Preserve.
“The Knight of the Wands is about the struggle for resources,” Nagley said. On the positive side, “it’s about respect for the Earth and mutual respect.”
The tarot cards are all painted in gold on a jet black background. For Nagley, this means that “the history of the United States was on black skin” and refers to the search for gold by the Spanish colonialists and the early settlers.
Reactions to the new job have been strong, both from those who appreciate the recognition of the suffering in our country, and those who struggle to see it, according to Nagley.
“Racists come in and really panic,” he said. “Two middle-aged white men came over and asked, ‘What culture is this? I said, “It’s American culture. “
“The only card they said they received was death. That was it, ”Nagley added.
A longtime local muralist behind some of Kieth’s Alley’s most important works, Nagley said his public work has become more political in recent years.
“I have the impression that as an artist I have matured enough to face these problems. And I am confident in my skills that I can do it.
“I want to spend the time I have creating art that challenges things and helps people live better lives in one way or another.”