ace of swords, 2020. gouache and digital on paper. 8.5" x 11".
published in ode to queer, issue 1.
In my piece "ace of swords", I make a play on the format of the tarot card, which has gained popularity in some pockets of the queer community. The traditional Ace of Swords tarot card features a hand appearing out of a cloud, holding a sword that is topped with a crown and wreath. Upright, it can represent breakthroughs, mental clarity, success, and new ideas. Reversed, it carries associations of clouded judgment and re-thinking ideas.
I painted this piece at the beginning of June 2020, during a time when most of the United States was forced to confront the history and ongoing racism and anti-Blackness, but also a time where we saw the power of youth-led movements and grassroots organisations. For me, it was a time of hopefulness that we could imagine and build a future without police or prisons, and think of alternatives to keep our communities safe. The inspiration to paint "ace of swords" came to me at this time, and it felt like a blessing of clarity for this movement as well as myself. I painted "ace of swords" as a way to embody my hopefulness for justice, vision, and the future.
My version of the Ace of Swords depicts my chef's knife lying diagonally, and alongside it, halves of a cleanly sliced pomegranate. The knife is still fresh with a red liquid that also oozes out of the pomegranates and puddles around the handle and off the borders of the card. Instead of a crown or wreath, it is the pomegranate seeds that delicately encircle the tip of the knife.
The symbolism of the pomegranate both pays homage to queer art history and carries forward my personal queer identity. It is not a new idea to compare fruit to queer bodies (see: Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Caravaggio). In the positioning of the pomegranate halves, I lean on this art historical tradition to evoke a comparison with the body. Specifically, the round, plump pinkness brings to mind breasts that have been severed and are still bleeding. Getting top surgery was one of the most joyous and liberating experiences that I have been privileged to have. Yet the notion of what is essentially violence being done to myself and my body as a form of self-care is full of tension and contradiction that somehow feels right. It is left ambiguous as to what the red liquid is -- blood, pomegranate juice, and if it's blood, whose blood?
The substitution of the chef's knife for the sword is a deliberate one. The role of a knife is subject to its wielder. It can take a life, or provide for one through the preparing of food as a form of reproductive labour. The associations of cooking and domesticity with womanhood serve as a contrast to the indexical meanings of power, dominance, and masculinity that blades usually have. In a sense, a chef's knife is a queer tool, one that subverts notions of hegemonic masculinity and traditional femininity.