Artist gives Newfoundland and Labrador a troubling tarot reading

Is there truth in the cards? Artist Rhonda Pelley has created thought-provoking images.

Rhonda Pelley says cards show we need to change the path we are on

Artist Rhonda Pelley is the creative force behind a Newfoundland and Labrador-themed Tarot Card exhibit at The Rooms. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Rhonda Pelley has been reading tarot cards since she was a teenager, and now she has created her own that offer commentary on the history and politics of Newfoundland and Labrador.

When asked to create a show at The Rooms in St. John's, Pelley, a visual artist, was drawn to Muskrat Falls as it was on everybody's mind at the time.

Why do we continue this cycle of really big projects that fail?- Rhonda Pelley

"I've been wondering how did we get here, why do we continue this cycle of really big projects that fail, that hurt the economy, that hurt communities, environment? Why do we keep doing that?"

So she took out her tarot cards and gave the province a reading.

Muskrat Falls as seen by Pelley is about losing hope and having to leave your home. Women carry clean water to another place. (Rhonda Pelley)

Pelley produced 16 tarot cards, using images from various archives and her own photography to meld together digital collages which she's called The Fever.

Cards tell a story

One of the more striking images is that of The Tower.

"A lot of the iconic buildings that represent power are being shipped out through the Narrows," Pelley said.

The Come By Chance oil refinery tops the tower. Underneath is the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist, followed by the Fortis Building, the Colonial Buidling, the Muskrat Falls dam and then the Upper Churchill.

An image of the Confederation Building binds them all together.

Power stuctures being towed through the St. John's Narrows in the tarot card The Tower. (Rhonda Pelley)

"The Tower is a tarot card and it usually represents radical change and it's usually about power structures that are not healthy, and inside of an individual it would mean that things have to change or you're going to have problems so that's sort of what that represents," Pelley explained.

Repeating ourselves

Another card called The Emperor shows an amalgamation of the arms of various premiers over the years as they gesticulate at a podium, trying to convince people to do things.

It's about male dominance, business dominance. Not quite listening to people.- Rhonda Pelley

"It's about male dominance, business dominance. Not quite listening to people. Pontificating," Pelley said.

"And the face is actually a composite of Joey Smallwood, Danny Williams and Brian Peckford. So it's an interesting idea that it doesn't really matter who's in. They're all the same person and he is on the walkway to the Colonial Building."

An amalgamation of premier's arms and a face that's a composite of Joey Smallwood, Danny Williams and Brian Peckford. (Rhonda Pelley)

Her conclusion from the reading?

"We have a tendency, our political system of repeating things over and over again, of electing the same sorts of people over again. I think that we have to be more engaged in a way with how things are decided here ... so we can try to change these situations," she said.

"I mean like Muskrat Falls which is such a very large and seemingly uncontrollable problem that's going to affect everybody eventually. Right now it's affecting the people in Labrador but it's going to end up affecting us terribly too."

Mireille Egan is curator at The Rooms. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"I am hoping people will realize that the history of this province is a complicated one, a multi-faceted one," said Rooms curator Mireille Egan.

"It has its failures, it has its successes but each individual is part of the conversation and ultimately the solution."

Pelley's show can be seen at The Rooms until June.

About the Author

Todd O'Brien

CBC News

Todd O'Brien is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in St. John's.