“I played cards with my Grandmother all the time when I was growing up (she lived next
door). It was about being together without the need for conversation but with space for it
if we wanted. Games remind us of what we have in common, and the cards are an
attempt to realise and recapture some of the essence of what my grandmothers offered
through images and messages; advice, wisdom, experience, reassurance, love, patience,
stoicism, continuity and comfort. The cards themselves were also therapeutic, the motifs
magical, ambiguous, enigmatic.”

– Alice Instone


The Project

In partnership with Illuminate Productions


British artist Alice Instone has created an uplifting and intriguing new project called Playing Cards with my Grandmother to celebrate International Women’s Day (8 March 2018). Alice is also representing visual arts for UN Women's 'Arts Week'. As part of London-wide celebrations Alice is inviting passers by and visitors into her magical Art Caravan from Canary Wharf to Tate Modern Bankside and Carnaby Street. Visitors will be welcomed into a jewel-like enchanted world to participate in a game of cards, as a way of bringing together strangers: men, women, young, old and of all backgrounds - and reminding ourselves that what we share is more powerful than what divides us. The caravan offers an intimate and enticing space that should tempt in people who might not go to galleries. They can escape the fray of their busy day for a few minutes and record their Grandmothers’ names in The Grandmothers Book if they wish.

Alice has designed a unique and beautiful card deck with strong women in mind - as a surrogate Grandmother - each card is inscribed with a life-affirming message that a wise grandmother might offer up to give her grand-children strength and guidance. There is also an exquisite and tiny book to partner the cards, explaining the meanings behind each card image or archetype and how they draw on shared mythologies from around the globe, tapping into the commonalities that tie us together. The artist and actors will teach and play the games. The caravan will be parked at busy thoroughfares and will be seen by millions of Londoners. Limited Edition card decks and books are available to buy from assorted bookshops and here





54 limited edition Tarot/playing cards created by Alice with strong women in mind - each card has a saying around its edge offering shrewd and intuitive Grandmotherly thoughts of wisdom, experience, reassurance, love, patience, stoicism, continuity and comfort. The images are based on well known archetypes and can be used as both Tarot cards or as a regular deck to play games.




The Grandmother's Tarot Set includes a beautiful box containing Alice’s unique deck of 54 Tarot/playing cards and an exquisite little book about the cards. The book explains the meanings behind each card image or archetype and how they draw on shared mythologies from around the globe, tapping into the commonalities that tie us together.






When I was small, I played cards with my grandmother Erica. She lived next door, smoked ginseng cigarettes, and the air of her house was mysterious and oriental. Our card games were about being together without the need for conversation, but with space for it if we wanted. The games were both joyous and palliative. Bezique, rummy, snap, old maid, patience, racing demon, card houses. Something sacred-feeling about the names and rules, about the reverential and ritualistic way she handled the cards. There was always a plate of custard creams on the table when we played.

This deck is offered up as a surrogate grandmother, an attempt to recreate the magical world of her card table. May these images and communications bring you what grandmothers bring to all of us: wisdom, experience, reassurance, love, patience, stoicism, continuity and comfort. The saying or saw inscribed around the edge of each card is a message carried from the world of grandmothers into our own.

I loved my grandmother’s house because it floated somewhere above the everyday world: time moved slower there, things were always the same and always still. The cards themselves were therapeutic, the motifs magical, ambiguous, enigmatic. The Grandmother’s Tarot has been made to be played and shared but the cards also offer something else: guidance. Twenty two cards resemble the Major Arcana of Tarot decks, the rest are familiar cultural and narrative motifs.


Looking at the illustrations may help you discover new perspectives; a randomly chosen image may lead you along new pathways, offering insight along the way as a wise grandmother might. The images hold a mirror to your subconscious: the cards are telling you things that you already know but are buried and obscure. This book is here to help you unearth some of the occluded messages in the cards, although the greatest revelations come when you listen closely to those whispers that only you can hear in them. There are no inherently negative cards. ‘Reading the cards’ correctly is only a matter of trusting your own intuition.

The traditional iconography of playing and tarot cards echoes the primary concerns of life: love and death, success and failure. The characters, known as archetypes, have numerous and sometimes conflicting interpretations, for example ‘Death’ can represent rebirth and transformation. The psychologist Carl Jung used the concept of the archetype in his theory of the human psyche. Jung believed that universal, mythic characters - archetypes - reside within the collective unconscious of people the world over. They are inherited knowledge, the wisdom that guides the Yucca Moth on one single night of its life to discover yucca pollen and transport it with one of its eggs to the pistil of another yucca plant. This knowledge is not “learned”. So archetypes represent key human motifs of our experience as we evolved, and consequently are able to evoke deep emotions.

As the archetypes spring from the ancient shared stories of our forebears, they are universally identifiable. They are the figures that help us navigate the hidden pathways of life - from childhood fairytales to dreams - they are characters we will perceive all around us if we listen to our innermost voices.

Early storytellers were shamans, bards and seers who called upon this well of symbols to force the shadows to recede. They have many modern counterparts, who still help bind the world together. Stories and kindness stop everything falling apart. They teach us how to journey through the dark woods, to treat strangers decently (in the words of the Grandmother ‘Be kinder than you have to be’); they offer moral and ethical structures that enable us to trust, love and endure.

Jung was influenced by Schopenhauer who was also interested in archetypes and went on to develop his philosophies into an ascetic outlook which said that in the face of a world filled with endless strife we ought to minimise our natural desires in order to achieve tranquility and equanimity. In honour of this we have given Schopenhauer his own playing card (Desire).

Schopenhauer also worked on colour theory and in turn was influenced by Goethe and Schiller who created a colour wheel matching colours to archetypes in 1798. Tyrants, heroes and adventurers were red/orange/yellow; hedonists, lovers and poets were yellow/green/cyan; public speakers, historians, teachers were cyan/blue/violet; finally philosophers, pedants, rulers were violet/magenta/red. We have matched some of our characters to their symbolic colour. Goethe also included aesthetic qualities in his colour wheel, establishing a kind of colour psychology. He thought green was “useful” for example. Red, which we have chosen for our card backs, was “beautiful” as well as being the colour of the philosopher.


Should your glance on mornings lovely
Lift to drink the heaven’s blue
Or when sun, veiled by sirocco,
Royal red sinks out of view –
Give to Nature praise and honour.
Blithe of heart and sound of eye,
Knowing for the world of colour
Where its broad foundations lie.