The Dyke Deck revisited: New portrait-filled playing cards capture a dynamic queer community


The Yellow Jackets Collective for Pur·suit by Naima Green

Queer visibility has become an increasingly important topic in today’s social climate. In the last several decades many artists such as Catherine Opie, Vaginal Davis, Wu Tsang, and others have come to depict the LGBTQ+ community in more critical and open ways. Now, Brooklyn-based artist, Naima Green has begun an ambitious project titled Pur·suit, which will take the form of of playing cards depicting queer women, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people through portraits. Featuring over 100 people, the project seeks to give voice to a community that is sometimes rendered silent. It’s currently crowdsourcing money through Kickstarter until February 21, which underscores the larger aspects of community that is the basis of this work.

Pur·suit will consist of two parts. Firstly there will be a physical deck of 54 cards which will feature portraits from the over 100 people Green has already photographed. The second part will consist of “a digital archive which will expand and preserve narratives of queerness and its many evolving identities,” Green explains on her Kickstarter page. The archive will include photographs, letters, poems, audio clips, and more depending on how the participants choose to document their experiences.

Cards from Catherine Opie’s Dyke Deck. Opie divided her portraits into four categories, each corresponding with the four suits: Hearts equal Couples, Clubs = Jocks, Diamonds = Femmes and Spades = Butches. Green’s new deck is broader in scope, including queer and trans women, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people, “to help complete an image of the world that we live in.” Photo: Alpha 137 Gallery

The origins of the cards came while Green was conducting research for her MFA thesis in the New York Public Library and discovered Dyke Deck, made by photographer Catherine Opie in the early 1990s. From 1990-95, Opie produced a series of portraits through an open call of lesbians living in the Bay Area at the time. The images were then turned into a mock deck of playing cards and offered an intimate look into many people’s lives.

Serving as a larger commentary on gender norms and larger perceptions of gender identity, Dyke Deck helped to further destabilize what people thought about gender and gender performance and offered a vital look into the LBGTQ+ community in the Bay Area. The concept was powerful and stayed with Green and she wanted to do something with it.

The Dyke Deck was originally sold at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Photo: Alpha 137 Gallery

“I knew there were elements that I wanted to maintain: the suits, studio portraits, and making custom card backs. I originally approached this project thinking about femme-identified lesbian women and quickly moved into thinking about people who are marginalized within queer communities, folks we might not see enough of,” said Green.

Informed by Opie’s idea and her own Brooklyn queer community, Green decided to create her own set of portraits in deck format. This set of cards is drawing heavily on the queer experience of those around Green and in turn, she is hoping to showcase these individuals. When it came to finding sources for her portraits, many people came to Green.

“Many people found me for this project. I asked some friends and acquaintances to participate and I was deliberate about working with folks who I haven’t met and who might be unfamiliar with my work and process…So many incredible participants found me, and that’s part of the thrill of photography for me – there is an excitement that comes with not knowing anyone, not knowing how they’ll be when they come to the studio, how much energy or subtlety someone might bring to set,” Green said.

Over the course of working with her subjects, Green also got to know them personally. Green met one woman, Ica, several years ago and they became friends through the project.

“Ever since we were reintroduced she’s been sharing poems and insights with me – we have little text gift exchanges. Ica recently shared that Pur·suit is coinciding with a big shift in her life and the project is making space for her to see herself more clearly, and for her to hold a wider range of possibilities for her life,” Green said.

The working card design for Pur·suit. Photographer Naima Green is collaborating with a team of designers to create the deck. Image: Naima Green

It is this larger sense of queer community, different people coming together, and being able to tell people’s stories that is really at the heart of this project.

“The communities we build or are brought into hold us up. My life would be so different had I not made the friends I made when I moved to Brooklyn. Even growing up in New York, I’m constantly reminded that there is nothing quite like the queer communities, circles, and silos of Brooklyn,” Green said.

Green’s project, like Opie’s, is also acting as an archive through the documentation of different queer lives it is capturing. It is also helping to further challenge ideas surrounding concepts of gender and sexuality, and in the process is helping to redefine what people think of community.

The Kickstarter is slated to go through February 21, 2018. As of February 18, the project had earned $22,866 of the $32,000 they hope to raise. In typical Kickstart fashion, Pur·suit also features several tiers based on the amount of money people can donate. Green hopes to have the project ready to roll out this summer. For more information about Pur·suit and Naima Green’s work, and to donate to the project click here.

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