After a careful shuffle and posing a question out loud, the first card I pull is the Eight of Swords, showing sharp, dark purple criss-crossed sabers with the word “Interference” ominously written across the bottom. The second card I pull is the Prince of Swords, on it, a green tyrannical figure rides a chariot while holding the reins of three smaller figures, who are seemingly prisoners and propel the chariot forward. The Knight of Wands is next, featuring a figure in chainmail armor on a rearing horse in front of a glaring pyramid of flames. Upon first glance as a tarot novice, none of this is making me feel at ease.
My card reader goes on to explain in depth what each card and its orientation in the spread could potentially mean for me, and I begin to understand that the iconography of each card may not be a literal representation of what’s going on in my life (much to my relief, as I was definitely concerned about the pyramid of flames in that last card, to say the least), but rather a tool to help me understand my own intuition a bit further. I pull a final, fourth card, that is meant to act as a sort of follow up to the insights gleaned from the first three. This time it’s the Four of Pentacles showing a strong and safe looking castle with a moat around it and the word “Power” inscribed at the bottom. Suddenly, I’m feeling a little bit better about this whole thing.
These cards lay before me at Root & Rise, a one-day event at Roman Susan in Roger’s Park. The reader is one of the co-curators of the day, cultural administrator, curator, and performing artist Courtney Cintrón. The event, also co-curated by arts administrator and curator Adia Sykes, was described as a “space for healing and celebration as we move into the new moon in Taurus” and brings together tarot readings, meditation lead by Jamila Kinney of Moving Soul Wellness, and euphoric dance in the space transformed by artist Zuri Washington into what the event descriptions calls an ephemeral sanctuary in which our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies can coalesce.
Courtney explained that the inclusion of tarot readings into the day’s events was meant to compliment Zuri’s transformation of the space and their practice: “Belonging to traditions such as alchemy, astrology, and ceremonial magic, Tarot can be seen as a set of symbols through which reality can be interpreted. Contemporary art exhibitions have begun to move beyond canonized sources of meaning making towards an embrace and sincere interest in the esoteric and ineffable arts. Although disparate, Zuri’s practice also makes use of a rich vocabulary of sigils that activate the imagination and transcend time and place.”
Zuri’s work installation in the interior of Roman Susan incorporates hand-drawn sigils, a symbol considered to have magical power, covering every wall from top to bottom. Additionally, Zuri’s hand stitched fiber creations are placed strategically throughout the space; some attached directly to the walls and others hanging from thin white ropes. In the back of the space, they created an intimate, altar-like area by hanging layers of sheer white fabrics from the ceiling. Zuri described their intention behind the installation by explaining: “My practice of space-making always starts off with the intent to make someplace accessible for the spirit. Normally that means creating installations that house the body and are designed to enrich one body at a time, but knowing the intentions for Root & Rise, I took time to craft an altar space that would run parallel with Adia, Courtney, and Jamila’s practices. It was important that nothing compete with each other, and each element could be experienced to the benefit, not detriment, of others.”
Zuri went on to say they focused on how bodies would move in the space of Roman Susan, which posed a challenge. They wanted to meld their artistic practice with the other collaborates and allow for the event attendees to move, unhindered, in the space. While their normal instinct would be to create a soft, tactile maze, similar to previous installations they’ve created, they decided to focus on creating wall sigils, soft portraits of their family and ancestors, and a hanging structure that acts as what Zuri describes as an alternative focal point, should anyone desire a quieter, stiller experience.
I asked Adia what the catalyst for the event was and she reflected: “Root & Rise was an idea that Courtney and I would talk about casually, not really thinking that anything would come of it really. You know those ideas you have over drinks with friends? It was one of those. We envisioned something that would combine all of the aspects of ourselves, our curatorial practices, our own arts backgrounds, and arts administration training into one thing. So this event, or rather the first kind of iteration of this type of happening that incorporated art, different aspects of our respective spiritual practices, astrology, movement, etc. arose out of that desire. We submitted a proposal to Roman Susan on a whim and were really glad that they were open to hosting it. Zuri was approached later. I’m telling you, that proposal was super nebulous and had very little detail about the artist we wanted to work with or the flow of the day. Zuri’s work seemed like such a natural fit for this project – blending ancestral traditions into a space of reflection that was activated by mediation and euphoric dance.”
Courtney and Adia read tarot for each other and their friends, and wanted to focus on creating an event that celebrated the new moon with a space of healing, reflection, and pause. Adia explained that they started the day having event attendees participate in a guided meditation to get people into their bodies. She reflected, “Jamila Kinney is such a master with somatic mediation practices and uses language that’s really accessible for people who don’t have mediation practices.” The guided meditation portion of the day took on two parts – first Jamila invited the event attendees to sit in a large circle and work through a mindful body scan, a type of meditation that focuses your attention on the sensations in your body. Next, Jamila asked us to participate in a walking meditation around the interior space of Roman Susan and focus. Jamila reflected that the meditation experience she facilitated is “always open and up for interpretation by whomever I’m sharing the space with. My intention, however, was for me to offer space, ease and accessibility in the guided meditation. Also, by providing both a seated and walking meditation I wanted to offer another way to connect to meditation.”
Adia recounted, “A couple people who attended walked up to me and said, ‘Yeah, we didn’t know what we were getting into with this mediation thing, but we really needed it.’ The mission of this wasn’t to make people have a spiritual awakening or anything like that, it was really to try and make people take pause in the chaos of their weekend and in the craziness that is the world we live in today to experience the powers that starting with one’s own body, checking in with it and taking time to listen to it, can do. That rootedness in one’s own being and being present in the space and moment around them are things that Courtney and I try to practice, so we wanted to try and share that.”
After about 30 minutes of the meditation practice, Jamila concluded by stating, “Remember, you are your own foundation to build upon.” When I asked her what this statement meant, she said that as we moved deeper into the meditation she felt intuitively compelled to remind people of the importance of their relationship to their body. She noted that all experiences are received through the body, unfiltered, and that our egos have a habit of shielding or limiting our ability to experience life as it is. This reminder – that we are all our own foundations to build upon – is a “call to experience life as it comes to us but to also listen to the wisdom and responsiveness of our body to our environment.” Jamila offers that there are many opportunities to get to know ourselves and that developing awareness and a relationship with our bodies is the way in.
Following the group meditation at Roman Susan, the day pivoted towards a higher energy activity – a euphoric dance party. Courtney explained that this element of the day was chosen specifically to align with the Taurus new moon. She noted that in astrology, the 12 signs are divided into groups based on their elements with Taurus being an earth sign. She noted that the earth element cultivates a sense of groundedness and building solid foundations. “As such, the new moon in Taurus called for a dance party that would connect people with their bodies and with their own unique ways of moving through space. Dance is an essential way to get grounded, find your center, and connect with the body,” she explained. Of the euphoric dance party, Adia mused, “It was a way for people to shake it out and get some endorphins going. There’s something so freeing in moving your body and not giving a damn, you know?” She also elaborated that new moons in general are a “beginning or new beginning” and that the Taurus new moon in particular calls for strengthening our foundations, doing away with what no longer serves us or prevents us from ‘leveling up’ – “This new moon called us to be brave emotionally and speak our truth, to ourselves and to others.”
Zuri described the euphoric dance party that concluded the day as a natural extension of Jamila’s practice of centering and grounding our bodies, however, this time the emphasis was on moving outwards instead of inwards. Zuri intentionally designed the space to stand and observe this type of movement, not to hinder or alter it, and they think that “the euphoric dance had plenty of space to get our bodies engaging with not only itself, but other bodies. The whole series of events really left me with a greater sense of awareness of my body, which is effectually what the non-stationary parts of my previous works were meant to be, but without the tactility I’m used to, which is exactly why collaborations are so fruitful.”
Featured image: A black and white illustration of eleven human figures conversing in small groupings in the Roman Susan space. The walls behind them are covered in black and white sigils and marks made by artist Zuri Washington. A fabric structure hangs in the middle of the gallery. Illustration by Tesh Silver.
Emily Breidenbach is an arts administrator with experience working at museums, education centers, and non-profits. She is currently the Associate Director of Marketing and Enrollment for Continuing Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and has previously managed strategic communications for the Krannert Art Museum, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the Learning and Public Engagement department at the Art Institute of Chicago. She has a B.F.A. in Art History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a M.A. in Arts Administration and Policy at SAIC.