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Inside Oakland’s Secret Subterranean Tarot Temple

Updated: Jun 03, 2024 09:29
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East Bay Open Studios starts up this weekend and during the second weekend, June 8th and 9th, you can visit Oakland’s super secret subterranean tarot temple called The Crimson Tarot. Created by local artist Kirsten Desdemona, this immersive installation takes guests on a journey through the 22 major arcana cards of the tarot, each created by Desdemona over the past three decades. This special art exhibit showcases the artist’s personal interpretations but also provides a space for reflection and community connection.

Inside Oakland’s Tarot Temple – image from artist Kirsten Desdemona

Exploring Inside Oakland’s Secret Subterranean Tarot Temple

Before stepping into this amazing secret tarot temple, it’s helpful to know some basics about tarot. Originating around the 1400s, tarot is often associated with fortune-telling. However, today it is more widely recognized as a tool for gaining deeper insight into one’s own life. A full tarot deck consists of 78 cards, but the major arcana, the first 22 cards, depicts the most universal human conditions and major life lessons. These cards were the focus of the artist’s work in The Crimson Tarot.

For this tour, I went my friend Even Howard, a tarot reader under the name Tarot At The Crossroads. She helped me appreciate the unique beauty of this art installation and gave me some unique insights on how this tarot temple aligns with more modern ways of interpreting tarot.

Art by Kirsten Desdemona – photo by Katy Atchison

When you walk through the exhibit, you move through the major arcana in order with a guidebook written by the artist. Throughout the space, there are cozy nooks to sit in and small altars with symbols that match the art pieces showcased throughout.

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“As a fellow artist, I appreciated the visible trajectory of Kristen’s original experiment, her interpretations of the archetypes of each major arcana, and her collaboration with community and available space. It’s a rare gift to see not only the artworks as a complete series but also experience this moment where the works reach their audience as a dimensional experience. The marks of time in some of the collages’ ephemera sparked some reminiscing and optimistic future projections.  I reflected on how the seeds artists plant may have an unknown time to bloom and yet the right time can come, especially with community support,” Howard said.

The temple is peppered with altars – photo by Katy Atchison

My friend and I had a similar take on the artwork throughout the exhibit. There’s something really cool about seeing someone create their own interpretations of tarot. When you pull a card in a tarot deck, you naturally pull out symbolism that is meaningful to you. As an artist, you can create your own interpretation visually.

Howard said to me, “Engaging with the altar elements that bring the exhibit into an experience reminded me of how much the tarot community, related forms of self and community care, divination, and cultural exchange, have widened in the last 30 years. These artworks are both evocative of the era of their creation and additive to current tarot culture. I think this speaks to Kirsten’s engagement during creating as well as the perennial relevance of the archetypes depicted.”

This subterranean art installation has cozy nooks – image from artist Kirsten Desdemona

The Origin of Crimson Tarot and Exploring Its Symbolism

The origin of The Crimson Tarot dates back to when Desdemona was in grad school and it’s been a project that has been decades in the making. It took nearly 10 years to create the series and several more before it became the art installation you see today at her temple. Knowing that this is a full series that took the artist decades to create, as Howard mentioned, was a special treat.

“It is a unique full sensory experience in a magical atmosphere 30 years in the making!” – Desdemona

Desdemona recalls her journey, “So, The Fool set me off on the beginning of my own journey of completing a series of all 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot.  Each subsequent card I worked on was a journey in and of itself.  As the Fool chose me to create it, the other cards randomly chose me to create them as well.”

She continued, “As I researched, meditated on, and delved into the meaning of each card, I realized the essence of the card was pertinent to where I was at that time in my life, or there were special lessons to learn from that card at the time.  I worked on each card in my spare time while studying in graduate school and through my first years as a high school art teacher.  Now that I have retired from my busy career as a public school teacher, I am proud & excited to finally share the magnum opus with you,” Desdemona recalled.

Art by Kirsten Desdemona – photo by Katy Atchison

Where to Find The Subterranean Tarot Temple

Desdemona has grand plans to offer more things at her temple but the best way to view it is the 8th and 9th during the East Bay Open Studios. In the future, she hopes to host more readings in the space.

Address and East Bay Open Studios Info:

The Subterranean Tarot Temple: 2nd weekend Only! #45
308 49th Street, Oakland, CA, USA
Saturday June 8 & Sunday June 9
11am – 5pm-10 pm
featuring: Aya Safiya (@ayasafiyatarot) offering full Tarot Readings! both days 2-5pm

Learn more about Kirsten Desdemona and her art: IG: @lakikidesdemona
The tarot temple was created with help of Victoria Grace and Sophie Burda

Visit the temple June 8th and 9th – photos all by Katy Atchison

More Info on East Bay Open Studios:

For two weekends, June 1st-2nd and June 8th-9th, you can explore artist studios across the East Bay for free. There are nearly 100 locations this year participating. My recommendation is to visit the map on the East Bay Open Studio website. There are some great larger pockets of artists where you can visit several artists all at once. The Loom is a great multi-artist space in Oakland as well as Makers Workspace in Berkeley – both are locations with several amazing artists to visit and meet with. A full list of participating artists is also on the open studios website:

Secret spots always have the tiniest signs – this way, to the Tarot Temple – photos all by Katy Atchison

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.