What happens when you arm a group of women with ‘adult human female’ postcards and let them loose on the art galleries and museums of Britain? We found out.
As we look online at pictures of deserted city centres and closed public buildings, it’s strange to think that only weeks ago Britain’s public buildings were packed with visitors.
Not so long ago, in a galaxy that now seems far, far away, an initiative was launched to place ‘adult human female’ postcards in art galleries and museums all over Britain.
Each woman involved in the guerilla art project was sent a dozen ‘adult human female’ postcards. Their brief: to photograph the outside of their chosen gallery, plant the postcards in the giftshop, photograph the cards insitu and email the photographs to me, along with a short piece about their part in the action.
(I might even have had a gallery of my own).
Cards were distributed all over the UK. Women from London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Brighton, Newcastle*, Cardiff*, Manchester*, St Ives*, Glasgow* and Edinburgh had been enlisted to plant postcards in their local museums and galleries. Sadly, our postcard ninjas hadn’t finished their work before the lockdown came: now our public buildings are closed and our streets deserted, but some of those postcards still sit in the now silent, darkened galleries.
*Cities marked with an asterisk hadn’t completed before lockdown.
Although this article will be shorter than originally intended, we hope it still carries a powerful message: a woman is an adult human female, and women will not submit.
The Science Museum, London
Postcards were left in the gift shop at the Science Museum in South Kensington on at least 4 occasions during February and March, leaving some Mumsnetters to speculate as to whether the museum had agreed to stock them.
Mumsnetters spotted the postcards on February 9th and again on 21st. Comments on the thread included:
“I thoroughly approve of this guerilla action…
Are you sure they’re not official?…
Kudos to whichever brave woman put them there…
Can’t think of a better place for them than the Science Museum…
If I’d seen the postcards in the shop I would have tried to buy one …
It’s a stunning campaign, in my opinion. If the dictionary definition of the word woman is offensive, then that, in itself, is a headline worth shouting from the rooftops.”
So here is the story of the Guerilla Art Project, or Postcards from the Edge: pictures of some of those postcards insitu and testimonies from the women who put them there.
Our postcard ninja visited the Science Museum in mid February and wrote this for us:
“The Science Museum was heaving with kids. It was that last month before we forego museums for parks, and then the parks for sofas. We had a mission! Not a space mission but one of enlightenment. To spread the news of the absolutely bleeding obvious. Science: surely the study of the world through observation.
In our bags, postcards.” Woman (noun) adult human female” they read.
Innocent enough, but nothing is more powerful than the truth.
The first place we slipped them into was the downstairs gift shop. The postcards surrounding them were diagrams of equipment and moon rock, carefully labelled and observed. In Orwell’s 1984 he wrote that rejecting “the evidence of your eyes and ears” was the most essential demand of the regime.
Refusing to accept nonsense is always a battle worth fighting.
Then we went up to the gift shop near the Wonderlab. This was far more aimed at young kids, with plastic toys and colourful rocks.
Suddenly I felt uncomfortable, as if stating the truth about our biology was somehow tawdry.
But then I remembered a recent visit to the Natural History museum; very young kids walking through a model of a womb and looking in wonder at a giant foetus. After all, it’s how we all began. One of the most negative tactics of the ‘woke’ assault is the attempt to make women feel reticent to speak of the experience of womanhood as something linked to their bodies. I decided I would not be diffident! I thwumped them down next to a picture of the world. Women, after all, are just under half the population.
In the kids shop there were books of fearless scientists male and female who have tried to persuade people, who didn’t always want to hear, of their findings based on the hard won evidence of their eyes, ears and equipment. Speaking the truth to the best of one’s ability, I thought, is a tough job – but someone has to do it.”
“I’ve loved the Natural History Museum since I was a kid, it’s full of of dinosaur bones, stuffed birds and exhibitions. I’ve visited it with my own kids a lot over the years and I was happy to be a part of this action. What better place to state a biological fact than the NHM?
We visited the Human Biology exhibition where we were reminded of some simple biology.
“You inherited one complete set of genes from each of your parents. This means that for every gene you have two versions. One from your mum and one from your dad… In her life a woman will produce about 400 ova, usually one every month. A man however, will produce millions of sperm cells. Many more cells are produced than will ever be fertilised.”
Such terrible transphobia! I put my postcards in the gift shop, they looked great.”
“Bristol has a really good museum and art gallery but I hadn’t been there for a long time.
There was an interesting exhibition on Magic on the ground floor near the gift shop.
There weren’t many people in the gift shop so it was easy to leave the postcards.
In the first floor gallery there is a painting of a little boy in a pink dress, painted by Robert Peake in 1605.
It’s of the young Charles I when he was Duke of York.
Charles was five.
Wearing a dress doesn’t make you a girl.”
“As I walked into the British Museum, I paused briefly to look up at the massive ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’ poster staring up at me, having to resist making a joke to my sister about the myths and realities of trans-identification, knowing that she would tell me I’d made that joke a million times before.
At the entrance to the exhibition, I placed a few cards in the ticket and program desk, feeling sneaky as I tried to place them quickly and discreetly, hoping that the man on the desk wouldn’t notice my quiet activism.
I then went to the gift shop areas, putting postcards with the ‘real’ postcards on the rack, waiting a moment and watching for any passers-by who might stop for a quick peruse of the artistic postcards the British Museum had to offer, in case they happened upon one of mine and found it interesting. However, no one walked past, and I wanted to get to my final destination so I could safely say that the museum had been TERF-ed.
I looked through the museum bookshop, picking up a few books about ‘gender fluidity’ that just happened to be right next to the feminist pieces, aimlessly flicking through them, then placing them back with a postcard on display. I left feeling fulfilled, my small part in the fight for our rights sitting above a book aptly entitled ‘Diversify: How to Challenge Equality, and Why We Should’.”
“This pic is of the postcards I left at Tate Liverpool.
There is an exhibit currently in the gallery called Medical Mavericks, featuring a woman and two men.
Frances Ivens was the first female hospital consultant in Liverpool. Women’s history is important to uphold and share. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Ivens”
I’ve been to the Museum of London plenty of times, but this visit felt just a bit different. As I fingered the postcards in my coat pocket, I caught myself glancing round to make sure I wasn’t being watched.
After walking round a couple of the exhibitions, I went into the shop & browsed the postcard section at the furthest end from the counter, looking for the best place to put my cards. Then something else caught my eye – their display of Suffragette merchandise for International Women’s Day. Suddenly the location was obvious. Bending over to look at a book, I slipped my Adult Human Female cards in at the end of a collection of cards & leaflets, straightened & walked towards the exit at my normal pace.
As I was approaching the door, a staff member came up to me. “Excuse me…”
Oh dear… I stopped, forced a smile. “Yes?”
“We’re just doing a customer satisfaction survey.”
I breathed again & told her how much I liked their Suffragette merchandise.
“We were being told not to leave the house for other reasons on the 9th February. A huge storm was threatening UK that day, so as I set out to visit the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on that wet and windy Sunday morning the roads were really quiet.
I parked my car in an empty street in the city centre then realising it was under a tree decided to move it to safety down the road. I was on a time limit, sadly, we were expecting friends for lunch (remember the good old days, when friends came to visit?).
I made it to the museum with only an hour on the parking meter.
I love Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, as you arrive at the entrance someone greets you in the entrance, although a short walk I was already dripping wet, as I blustered out of my wet coat I was actually relieved that this was a distraction from my self-conscious red face. I was ridiculously apprehensive about this!
So I’d agreed with a friend to take part in an action to place ‘woman- adult human female’ postcards into the museum and photograph them. Sounds simple enough – but in practice it suddenly seemed a lot more complex, it felt like shop lifting in reverse!
The shop already had several people milling around so I chickened out and decided to use my hour productively and have a look around.
I’m usually enthralled by the pre-Raphaelite collection, or on my way to an exhibition or the Edwardian tea room, but in my fluster this day I noticed for the first time a blue plaque. It’s in the main atreum so fuck knows how I’ve missed it all these years, commemorating an Edgbaston suffragette called Bertha Ryland who in 1914 slashed a painting – wow she got a plaque – I certainly wasn’t up for slashing any paintings but I was hugely encouraged, stickering the handrail in front of the plaque .
I then moved on to an exhibition about Birminghams protest and activism over the years, damn it was as if they wanted me to do something!, and damn I only had an hour on the parking meter and not enough spare funds for a ticket.
So I did a really quick round of the exhibition, there was quite a a selection of suffragette pieces, jewellery, articles and a lot to read – damn, limited time meant I had to photograph to study later, (I promised myself I would return with more time –lol)- so I left Woman Adult Human Female cards on the plynth next to the descriptions of Bertha’s attack , There was a beautiful embroidered suffragette banner, I’m always a sucker for lovely needlework.
Then moving quickly round I came to a cardboard sign saying Queer Muslim, #QTIPOC, My sexuality is not your fetish – Hmm that got my attention- the word Queer makes me cringe but I must admit I agree with ‘my Sexuality is not your fetish’ -well said.
There were placards from 2017 Pride , the artistry certainly didn’t compare with the suffragettes embroidery – the description card beside them explained they were from a support group but to be honest I was a bit confused by the alphabet soup part. I wondered- will these be stored with reverence in the museums archive or do you think they will end up in the bin by mistake? You could see that so easily happening!
By now I was in serious danger of getting a ticket, so I headed to the shop and was relieved it was almost empty – I was so pleased to put up the cards, and then actually manage a photograph of them.
I then bought several other cards, I like to support this amazing museum.
I doubt I will ever consider slashing a painting but my small act of defiance- of reverse shoplifting- felt briefly important in our ongoing fight to not be silenced and to stand for women.”
“These postcards tell a true tale
woman = ‘adult human female’
In the British Library
they were put there by me
I sent the pictures to Lily by gmail”
“The National Gallery near Trafalgar Square houses paintings from the mid 13th century until 1900. On this visit I paid close attention to four paintings.
One of the most famous is Jan Gosseart’s ‘Adam and Eve’. Adam has just bitten the apple given to him by Eve and their naked bodies are newly covered by fig leaves.
It was downhill all the way for Eve after that, of course, God telling her, and all her female descendants thereafter that as punishment: ‘I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth.’
Metsu’s ‘Two Men with a Sleeping Woman‘ is a strangely haunting work. ‘Female drunkeness was both an object of amusement and an occasion of disapproval in 17th century genre paintings,’ informs the card next to the painting.
The gallery also houses Brugghen’s ‘Jacob reproaching Laban for giving him Leah instead of Rachel‘. The painting depicts an angry Jacob who, after labouring for Laban for seven years to be permitted to marry his beautiful daughter Rachel, is secretly fobbed off with the older and plainer Leah on their wedding night and – wait for it- doesn’t notice until the next morning.
Massay’s ‘An Old Woman’ (often called The Ugly Duchess) is another famous paintings in the gallery: a wrinkly-bosomed, troll-like, old woman dressed in the garments she would have worn in her youth. Viewers are told the painting is ‘probably intended to satirise old women who try inappropriately to recreate their youth’.
Of course, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Was it really Eve’s fault that Adam tasted the apple? Was the ugly old duchess supposed to just ‘let herself go’? Perhaps the sleeping woman was just trying to be a ‘cool girl’ and hang out with the boys? How did Leah feel about the secret swap? What did Rachel think?
One thing we can be pretty sure of is that none of them identified into this patriarchal judgemental bullshit.
The gallery shop was busy and I had to wait a few minutes before the postcard stand was clear.
I put a pile of postcards into a space between some green foliage and a praying woman and, my heart beating just a little quicker than normal, made my escape.”
“My cards arrived Monday and on Tuesday I got the bus to the Brunei Gallery. I hadn’t been there before, it’s on the list of museums on the ‘museum mile’ so I thought it would be bigger. I looked at some of the drinking vessels on display which were lovely but I couldn’t concentrate because I was so nervous!
I couldn’t see the gift shop at first. Then I saw a tiny office packed with books from and about Asian culture. It was a bookshop and yes there were also postcards for sale!
I was so nervous about leaving the cards I stayed in there for a long time before I had the bottle to do it!
I was the only person in there other than a man at a small desk covered in books, papers and a computer. I was sure he was watching me so in the end I propped the cards up next to the others and left really quickly. I almost forgot to take a photo. It wasn’t easy for me to do this but I am glad I did.”
“The first two photos were taken in the National Library of Scotland which is the repository of wonderful collections of Scottish records, manuscripts and publications.
The third is in the Scottish Parliament gift shop. This was recently selling children’s books such as ‘I am Jazz’ to ‘celebrate’ something T. The Scottish Parliament and government have been captured by trans madness and will shortly be considering consultation responses on the government’s GRA proposals.
As the shop was recently selling ‘I am Jazz’ and other dangerous material, it’s appropriate that the correct definition of woman has been added to their collection.
I will replenish the supply.”
“At the National Portrait Gallery there is a gift shop AND a bookshop so I left two batches of cards. First I went to the bookshop and left some cards there in the women’s section. The book ‘Goodnight Rebel Girls‘ includes a story about a ‘transgender’ six year old – SIX YEAR OLD – boy called Coy Mathis, who got to use the girls’ toilets at school and celebrated by eating pink cake and wearing “a sparkly pink dress and beautiful pink shoes.”
This story is so very stupid and sexist that I felt quite angry leaving my cards which I put next to ‘Women Artists’, ‘Representing Women’ and ‘Women in Science’. They looked just right, as if they belonged there, which they did.
The bookshop also had children’s books about the Suffragettes and about women in science next to a book called ‘Queer Heroes‘ which tells that kids the crazy idea that they are ‘assigned a gender’ at birth is true.
There was a card stand in the bookshop so I left some postcards there too.
I went to the gift shop afterwards where there was a whole section given over to Suffragette-themed gifts. I left my cards among books, shopping bags and other things celebrating the Suffragette movement.
I left three lots of cards at the museum and I think the Suffragettes would have been proud of all the women that have done this.”
“I think I must have been feeling particularly vulnerable that day. I looked for solace in art. The V and A: the very name of the museum itself a panagyric to the heteronormative experience.
I was shocked.
Confronted almost immediately with a breastfeeding person whom it was assumed was of the female gender.
Surely if we are to sever the connection between the identity category ‘woman’ and female reproductive function there is no place for this archaic pro-natalist titulature?
I saw body after body, robbed of its right to self expression and defined only by its sexual organs.
I sobbed inwardly to think that these bodies, forced into life from cruel, hard stone will have been equally fixed to the gendered norms of their day.
Some bodies were even hacked so that all that remained of their identity were the crude renditions of their genitalia.
One piece in particular struck me : a young athletic person was pinned to the ground by a figure who had clearly been identified as male at birth and had chosen to cis-identify.
’He’ was holding the youth down and fairly forcing that young person to regard the tyranny of his biology.
Then, I enter the gift shop.
And there, among the postcards is an affront to every liberal thinking person. ‘Woman: adult human female’ it says.
Buddha and Christ, both widely accepted to be non-binary, are in the row of postcards above and look down in pain.
A cat hides its face in horror.
Triggered, I look to the mandala postcard which hangs overhead, ‘Be kind, be kind’ it seems to say. I go up to the till.
‘This postcard is pretending I don’t exist!” I declare, waving the hurtful atestation.
The person at the till’s eyes veer from the postcard to my breasts quizzically as if I were one of those reductive art works.
“I am they!” I proclaim. I see the assistant looking around warily for more of me.
“I’m afraid my colleague will have to help you. My shift is over and I’ve got to pick up my kids from school.”
I pray for the bright future in which ectogenesis rids the human race of the word ‘mother’ and the word ‘woman’ can become a truly inclusive term.”
“I have the dubious privilege of living in Brighton, the wokest town in England. The Brighton Museum and Art Gallery is famous for the ‘Museum of Transology’ and it’s most famous exhibit is probably the pickled tits.
It had been raining non-stop for two days and I was soaked to the skin because I gave my umbrella to a beggar at the cashpoint which seemed like a good idea at the time. So I didn’t feel like looking at the gallery today, I was too wet and cold. I just went straight into the gift shop and left my postcards.
I’m so sick of gender politics, honestly what a load of bloody nonsense.
Is this ok, should I have written more?”
“I juxtaposed my Adult Human Female cards with an image of the three queens from the 12th century Lewis chessmen for a number of reasons. Visually, it works well: an essay in monochrome. No-one knows why the queens looks so sad, but when you go and see them in their case, surrounded by warriors on foot and on horseback, by bishops with menacing crooks, and by large, stern-faced kings, they look brave and full of grief and very isolated in a world of men.
The life of a 12th century queen was governed by having a female body: we may pretend that that is no longer true for 21st century women, but it would be a lie. And I wonder what their message would be for us, their daughters, separated by 900 years. We think their world was dark and superstitious, but I suspect ours is as bad if not worse.
I found doing this very powerful: I didn’t hide what I was doing, just placed the cards, stepped back, took a photo.”
So there we have it. Over a dozen galleries and museums displaying ‘adult human female’ postcards in all their glory. And you know what? The galleries and museums are just the tip of the iceberg. AHF postcards are quietly appearing in bookshops, giftshops and on postcards stands all over the place.
Because we all know what a woman is. And women won’t shut up.
You can order your own ‘adult human female’ postcards (slightly different to those on the left) from Standing for Women here.