Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2024

Author's School

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

Author's Department

Graduate School of Art

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Illustration & Visual Culture

Degree Type



In 1909 the Rider Company published the Smith-Waite Tarot deck which featured 78 illustrated cards by Pamela Colman Smith. With heavy use of appropriated and ambiguous symbology, the Smith-Waite deck became a meditation tool for realizing alternative realities. By observing the history of the deck, analyzing Smith’s approach to illustration, and retracing the counterculture occult explosion in the 1970s, this essay argues that the Smith-Waite deck is an object the reflects the queered body and self. The modern, trans-contentious, Western political climate creates an environment that obscures the fact that transgender people exist beyond the medicalization of their bodies. To combat this there is a need to develop ways to visualize and imagine transness without requiring direct witness of the trans body. Rather than solely observing transgender existence as a tangible form in visual culture, occult symbology can be used to imagine the interior experience of the transgender soul. The symbology contained within the Smith-Waite Tarot provides a framework to create a visual language of trans spiritual culture. This method of analysis can be proposed for imagining the transgender soul in visual culture, offering genderqueer people a means of protection from erasure.



Program Chair

John Hendrix