Cristy is a Cuban-American artist and activist, currently in the process of illustrating a full tarot deck featuring queer women of color practicing their magic. Cristy has been creating politically driven art and fanzines since the 90’s, now turning to crowdsourcing to fund her Next World tarot. Check out the Kickstarter here and the interview below discussing the marginalized world of mysticism and often overlooked battle cries.
Photo by Shoog McDaniel
Hi Cristy! I'm obsessed with your Tarot Deck and your illustrations. When did you first start drawing and did you find you were encouraged to pursue art as a young Cuban-American girl?
I’ve been drawing since I was born, it seems! I remember getting deep into my illustrations of the Muppets and that kind of snowballed in my more serious work -- illustrations of Ren and Stimpy, and the characters of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was about 10 years old and I realized that drawing was my favorite magical tool. My whole family loved art and music, and I didn’t have to fend for my message until I was a teenager, secretly writing about queerness and secretly submitting to queer zines. My family was fairly Catholic and conservative when I was younger; but we have all changed, both with me becoming a little more spiritual and less of a static anarcho-syndicalist, and them becoming a little more radical in their worldview. But despite content, I was always very privileged to be encouraged to make art. My sister is actually an interior designer (but she illustrates cartoons for fun. Just like I deeply decorate my house for fun.) All in all, creative expression was supported since I was really little, even though I went through eras of hiding a lot of my content. My angry narrative and secret gay agenda wasn’t obvious when I decided to go to college for illustration. This way I was able to cultivate my narrative through my subculture. I can share my work in its fullness to my family, now, though! Whether or not someone might make un commentario about a slimy vagina…
You recently started a Kickstarter to fund an amazing new project, your "Next World" Tarot Deck. Can you explain how you decided to crowd source the project?
Yes, it’s my first Kickstarter ever and it’s weird as hell! I’ve been freelance illustrating for over 10 years, and I’ve worked with publishers for my last three books, but this project has been a mission to get funded. I tried to work with a lot of people in the publishing industry and it felt like this just wasn’t the most mainstream project. I have a lot of reservations about the publishing industry, to be real. There’s a lot of rules and a lot of limitations on how "crazy" we can be, and how "marketable" our "alternative lifestyle" it is. Next World is the kind of project I need to quit freelance (temporarily) to finish. So the Kickstarter will be funding supplies and a bit of time, but the bulk of it is for self-publishing and distributing. I plan to do this on my own (hopefully with a team of friends); and I couldn't be happier with the idea of this journey (if the Kickstarter is funded). The more I think of it, the more I don’t want my magical tool to be mixed in with marketing strategies and selling points and pie graphs about demographics and sales. I think the more I try to articulate my art and my finances in writing, the more I swing back and forth between feeling naive, and feeling solid and proud as hell. I think that when making money off my art involves compromising my values AND my vision, I would rather get my money from a platform where I can have full freedom. Like a Kickstarter or a game show or a pimped out job. I can’t change my values.
The 10 of Swords
I love your ambition to make the spiritual world more available and more representative of queers and POCs. Is there a particular card you most identify with?
Hmmmm -- I think that The High Priestess is the card I most identify with, but especially in the context of making spirituality available to queer people of color. It’s all about secret knowledge and wisdom and cultivating your truth without the influence of the oppressors. I was in the closet for so long, and my last graphic novel is all about that -- living out your closet years as the secretly fierce bruja your abuelita knows you can be, but no one is ready to talk about it yet. I think growing up around IMMENSE INTENSE ancestral magic, but not feeling like it can be yours because of your gender or identity is not fair, but it’s still the backbone to my story. Seeing queers reclaim their magic has been one of the inspiring things for me to see in my community. I will never forget that many of my favorite tarot readings have been by some of my favorite QPOC writers and artists: Jade from Honey and Blackbone Tarot, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Suzy X, and Lettie Laughter.
Can you explain what 'next world' refers to and how you decided to crowd source the project?
My original title was THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT TAROT. Haha. total Gemini. And I want to convey that -- so I brainstormed with a few people. We came up with Apocalypse Tarot, Future Tarot, Tommorowland tarot (because I love Disney in a super nostalgic Floridian way). But Next World was actually (author) Michelle Tea's idea and I personally think it’s PERFECT. It encompasses all my goals without seeming like the world is actually over. Michelle Tea was actually the initial reason behind me working on this project; suggesting it around 2009. We were on the Sister Spit Tour when she gave me a bunch of tarot readings about my romantic problems. They were some of the first readings that felt like familial advice, as opposed to scary oracle. That tour also kind of catapulted my career into its adult phase.
You describe your deck as a "battle cry" which I love. Can you explain the metaphor?
I’m mostly just referring to the fact that the characters' power and resolutions are based off of them owning their struggles. For example, the 10 of Swords is a battle cry in ANY deck; because it’s about suffering and carrying that weight with you as you heal. But I want to show the juxtaposition between pain and triumph in EVERY CARD. Okay, not EVERY card, but in most cards there is a realistic notion of bleakness, or maybe the notion that the characters' stories aren't yet complete. Everyone is a little tired or a little pissed but not all battle cries are through aggression. For example, The Empress. I want to show The Empress sitting comfortably and giving off traditional earth mother vibes -- like she is definitely there to protect you. But she is also there because she deserves to love herself and pamper herself (after first protecting humanity). Her battle cry may not be as evident -- but the basic quest to take care of yourself and EXPRESSING that need to take care of yourself IS a battle cry. Wanting to get up in the morning and smile at the mirror, or wanting to go to your desk and believing in your work is a battle cry. Fending for your life or your power isn’t exactly like fending for your self-love; but they’re all powerful reactions to systemic oppression.
Our co-editor, Chris Lee, wrote an amazing piece about why queers love astrology ultimately concluding that it's due to it's inherent but loveable trashiness. Mysticism as a study is an outcast itself, made fodder for intellectuals or resigned to the back of a tabloid magazines. It almost mirrors the struggle of the oppressed. Why are you drawn to the spiritual? Are there other realms of divination or spirituality where you feel drastically under or misrepresented?
Queers love astrology because it’s a raw take on our past and present lives and we know our trauma isn’t all that makes us who we are; our messed up personalities are not mistakes, they’re just on a journey. Astrological charts offer complete details of our anxieties and family drama, it’s scientific and universal; it’s like sliding scale therapy. Except Chani Nicholas and Cal Garrison, that is like free therapy.
I think that a lot of magic is under represented, but for good reason, because it’s sacred to its adjacent culture or community. How fast does stuff get commodified when it’s overrepresented or trendy? HOWEVER, it being misrepresented is way more common, and makes me sick, even though it is something I’m used to. Of course I’m eager to transform the narrative that throws astrology and divination to the wingnut curb -- but how many times has queerness been on that curb? Anti-racism? Feminism? I’m not going to waste hours of my day trying to prove to scholars or capitalists or media moguls who worship Bill O'Reilly that there is a legitimate force connecting humans to the earth and celestial bodies. That this force pre-dates colonialism and goes way beyond fundamentalist Christianity. I’m not going to spend hours trying to prove to anarchist and atheist activists that celestial bodies affect living things on earth.
Astrology in its rawest form is NOT linked to dogmatic religions that set limitations on human expression. Ancient ancestral magic is a way more legitimate way to connect to the earth than post-colonial constructions of "spirituality" or even nature! Sure, we can’t light brown and green candles and expect global warming to stop; we do need science. But why should science have to negate the spiritual and ethereal knowledge passed down from the pre-colonial world? To the point where all we hear of that reality is ghost stories.
Are anti-astrology activists just as bad as Republicans? Are they not interested in finding a connection beyond what we learn in the colonized world? I think denying the narrative of race and gender oppression in a spiritual context is totally pointless. People killed for practicing their magic were getting killed by the colonizers. So, if you’re fighting for "equality" but bashing magic and astrology, we probably won’t be friends. But I’m not going to write an essay about it. I WILL, HOWEVER, offer tarot readings to ANY hater, ANYTIME.
I know you're a double Gemini which scares the hell out of me. How do you feel your signs help or hinder your artistic ambitions?
I think my double Gemini has always encouraged me to prioritize my message and my vision over stability. I have very little Earth in my chart. My Chiron is in Taurus and my South Node is in Capricorn, so I think that keeps me organized and aware of stability. Mix that with being my abuela's baby Cubanita and you get a neat freak that talks way too much. I always pay bills on time, or I try to. I think my Gemini shows its face the most in how I deeply obsess over weird things like colorful walls and strangely-colored food and little action figures of dinosaurs. But also in how I don’t measure my artistic success by how much money I make off it. I measure it by whether or not my message was sent, received and returned. And when that happens it’s amazing. I think there is a Gemini stereotype of having a lot of unfinished projects -- and sure, that’s true. But I think that with time, and having been at it for almost 20 years now (I published my first zine Green'zine in 1997), I know what projects to focus on. I also don’t attack myself for taking too long on something. I was starting to think I was wasting my time on this tarot deck, but real talk, freelance jobs happen. So does my band. And so do tragedies and surprises and explosions. I think not having funding held me back a lot; but I was able to focus on stuff that didn’t need funding -- freelance, my band, school, promoting recent work.
I think Geminis just need to work on their obsession with staying 17 forever and stuff will eventually make sense. It doesn't HAVE to include interrupting people or lying about your availability or showing your private parts in totally inappropriate situations. We can do it! We just have to focus on not ruining people’s lives in the process while not obsessing over their approval. I think articulating myself and learning how to balance my whimsical and perverted goals versus my politically-motivated goals has been a long Gemini battle. Thank god my moon is in Cancer. It keeps me humble and awkward and punk. It made developing a filter part of growing up. So living out my wildest teen dreams is totally sustainable as long as I can pay the electricity bill on time.
Anything else you want to include?
Protect your magic. Don’t steal magic that isn’t yours to steal.