Tarot cards through the eyes of Romanian illustrators

Tarot cards through the eyes of Romanian illustrators

The works of 40 Romanian illustrators condensed into a single deck of cards: Cluj-Napoca based ILLUSTRART Association’s latest initiative is here, this time giving new life to the symbols of tarot cards. We asked illustrator József Vass, one of the minds behind the initiative, about the story of the unique deck of cards.

The story of the ILLUSTRART community goes back to 2016 and started with another imaginative deck of cards. In the framework of the call of Cluj-Napoca based music festival Jazz in the Park, József Vass and his professional partner Maria Cucu reinvented a Romanian card game well-known from the eighties. The result was the card game titled Măscărici (clowns), in which 27 Romanian contemporary illustrators created a male and a female character and dressed them into the traditional clothes of various countries of the world. The successful collaboration was followed by the foundation of ILLUSTRART, with the primary objective of promoting Romanian illustrators.

In the spring of 2020, the team decided that it was time for a new project. “As illustrators, we, the members of the association, have always valued and cherished the visual and artistic world of tarot cards,” József shared with us. “At the same time, very few people are actually familiar with its history: it was only a simple card game in the 16th century and they only started to use it for the purpose of divination in the 18th century,” he added.

In line with this thought, the deck is divided into two sections: to the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana consisting of 22 and 52 cards respectively. “Our goal was not only to make a beautifully illustrated tarot deck; we also placed a great emphasis on usage. The pack can be used as a traditional tarot card, but if you remove the cards of the Major Arcana from the deck, you can also play with the rest of the cards, for example poker or other well-known card games,” József explained.

The illustrators invited to create the cards got a free hand: they only had to adjust to a pre-set color palette, thus preserving the visual unity of the deck.

We also asked some of the creatives participating in the project.

“It is a great pleasure to participate in the projects of ILLUSTRART’s community every time. I think each and every one of us improved a lot over the past six years and this really shows on the tarot cards.  

The card I chose is the Queen—I thought a lot about femininity, fertility and motherhood during the process of creation, but I also asked myself questions related to feminism, political power and diplomacy.”

Maria Surducan

“I chose the star out of the symbols of the Major Arcana because for me it represents the power of creativity and inspiration as well as the deep connection with our subconscious. I consider it my mission as an artist to discover these aspects of human nature and how creative freedom can bring us joy and fulfilment. Along this thought I decided to experiment and so I created the card in a style different from my previous works. The result is a decorative, naive and playful illustration, accompanied by a little absurdity and surrealism.”

Ileana Surducan

“This year’s tarot card project is the third card game in which I could participate owing to ILLUSTRART. The world of tarot has been unknown to me until now and so I found it exciting to read about it, gain information and to get to know it.

The card I chose is the »King of Cups«, representing kindness and empathy and controlling the world of emotions. Starting from this, I could relate to the character as the sensitivity and balanced nature of the king is a quite frequent feature of the figures appearing in my illustrations.”

Pojum Edith

The tarot deck is available in limited quantities in the shops of Cărturești in Romania and other local bookstores, including Bookstory and Gaudeamus. You can also order your own deck online. All illustrations appearing on the cards can be viewed here!

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