A conversation with Sunyatta McDermott is a delightful explosion of ideas and concepts. Of all the artists I've worked with on this project so far, Sunyatta was the one woman who not only met me idea for idea, but then completely outpaced me on symbolism and visual metaphor. Like many of us, Sunyatta has been struggling with both the personal and the political in the last year, and her thoughts, music and lyrics all turn towards methods of understanding and re-ordering what's happening in her world.
There were so many ideas flowing between us that one image would not do, so we conceived of a series of three images, each inventing a new card in our own fictional tarot deck. Rather than sticking with the established tarot, we constructed new arcana and suits. (Big thanks to Julie Gray, for sitting down with me and walking me very patiently through the symbolism of the tarot, so I felt comfortable going off-script and creating my own.)
The Tarot of Sunyatta McDermott
The Witness - Sunyatta is pictured as a witness to the events that are unfolding in our time. The Witness observes and records what is happening around her. She has a book and pen to record, eyes to observe, and the lyrics she creates are etched into her skin.
Six of Machines - We created a brand new suit for our tarot deck - Machines. Machines represent consumption, war and greed. They also represent a cycle, the endless repetition of actions. Sunyatta's recent lyrics contain many references to blades and earth, and you will see those references reflected here. The world of machines is one of chaos and disorder, an unnaturally constructed place.
Nine of Water - As ominous as the Machines might be, our next suit, Water, is the opposite, representing mystery, thought and hidden worlds. Water is the birthplace of life, a place of literal and metaphorical reflection. It is a neutral state, a place of rest and relative peace.
The creation of this series was, as you might imagine, a complicated endeavor. The Witness and Machines images were shot in my studio and composited onto their respective backgrounds, but the water image was shot in a friend's backyard pool (many thanks again to Molly and Stu Cooksey for letting us use their lovely space.) The final images are a mix of photo and 3D composites.
I have not done adequate justice explaining and translating Sunyatta's thoughts and concepts here - for a fuller understanding straight from the lady herself, make sure check out her band CaveofswordS.
Model: Sunyatta McDermott - CaveofswordS
Costume: Model's own
Here are a few additional images that I created on my way to the final concepts.