In her Tarot Garden Niki de Saint Phalle used their symbolism, at SCHIRN AT NIGHT they will be read live and in person: Tarot Cards. So, how does it work and what do the Tarot figures Niki de Saint Phalle used actually mean? We chatted with Tarot Card reader Sunny for the inside scoop.

It’s a cold day with deep blue skies in March and I’m sitting at my kitchen table in Cambridge. My laptop screen is still black as I’m waiting for tarot card reader Sunny to join me on a Zoom call to chat about Tarot, her personal history as an intuitive, and Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden in Garavicchio, in the Tuscany region of Italy. She will be reading the cards at SCHIRN AT NIGHT this Saturday, March 18! When the screen comes to live, I can see Sunny sitting crossed legged on the floor in front of a large white wardrobe with tiny silver knobs and a charcoal grey tassel dangling off one of them. Her curly blond and brown hair is hitting well below her shoulders, and she is wearing a baby pink, fluffy bucket hat.


Hi Sunny! It’s great to meet you. Let’s jump right into it shall we. Can you give us a little bit of an overview of Tarot in general?

Yes, so I like to look at Tarot as a way to get clarity on transitions or uncomfortable situations. The great thing about Tarot cards is that there are pictures that the other person can relate to. So, you can use the images as visuals to explain everything almost like telling a story. If someone for example has a lot of job interviews and they want to see how it is going, we can ask a simple question about that situation and give them clarity on the interviews and what the next steps are that they could be taking. Me personally I never give someone a yes or no answer. Because I feel like it’s still up to the person to make their own decisions.

I understand. OK, let’s do some basics like how do the cards look like? How does a regular reading work?

Ok, well, let me go grab a deck real fast.

She jumps up, revealing jeans shorts and black see-through tights covered in black dots. When she sits back down and starts to shuffle the cards, I notice a black tribal tattoo running from her right wrist to the back of her hand.

Like many decks this uses the traditional Rider-Waite illustrations that a lot of people are familiar with.

Cards from the 1st edition of the Rider-Waite Tarot, designed by Pamela Colman Smith and first published by William Rider & Son Limited in December 1909, Image via

It has these traditional pictures; I want to say most people even if they never had a reading have seen these cards before.”

She shows me The Empress and I unintentionally start to smile since this is one of the most important figures in Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden and one we will get back to later in this interview.

The Empress, tarot card, Image via

There are different types of readings. You could do a past, present, future reading. That’s usually three cards. I personally do more intuitive readings where I allow the cards to come out organically [as I’m shuffling for example] while we’re creating a conversation. We might start with a question, we pull out some cards, but then we need to clarify these, and it turns into an interaction of figuring out the next moves to give that person the best answers so they can answer the question themselves.

Almost like a therapy session, right?

(*lights up*) It very much can be like a therapy session! Sometimes people even cry because you get to touchy situations that have been bottled up and then a card comes out and says exactly what they have been feeling and all their emotions come out at once. It also depends on how open the person is to receive the message.

So, a lot of thinking on your toes, right? You go in and you know nothing…

She is throwing her hands in the air and beaming at me like a teacher who is especially proud of a student who’s finally starting to get it.

No, yeah, I’m not knowing anything! I don’t know the person asking the questions, especially online [she is working through an online app called Sanctuary] I don’t even see the person’s face, I just have their name and their birth date and then we just start a conversation. Not only are the cards telling me things, but I really must understand the situation to be able to read the cards. Because each card has multiple ways to read them, as well as a positive and a negative meaning. So, as you’re telling the story you need to be very aware of the energy you feel and you have to trust that what your reading is correct for that specific person.

Are there different versions of the cards? Different styles?  

People can change the cards how they want. So, for example for SCHIRN atNightthey had artists made cards that I will use to read. But usually, people keep to the traditional figures…

That makes sense! OK, let’s move on to Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden in Italy. I was thinking I could walk you through some of the sculptures in the garden and you could walk me through what the figures symbolize in traditional Tarot, and together we can figure out what elements of these traditional meanings made it into the sculptures in the garden.

Yeah, sounds great!

Niki de Saint Phalle, Jardin des Tarots, 1992 (c) 2023 Niki Charitable Art Foundation / Adagp, Paris

Perfect! Let’s start with the Empress. In the garden she is a massive female sphinx in blue with a red crown. She is the size of a house and did function as the artists living quarters during the time she was working on the garden (for over 20 years!). She has extremely large breasts that house a bedroom and the kitchen. The inside of the sculpture is completely covered in mirror shards. So, what does The Empress stand for in Tarot? Let’s see if we can make a connection.

The Empress has quite a few different meanings, but she comes down to tapping into your femininity. It’s about allowing yourself to birth your passions, your projects. Taking care of yourself, as well as taking care of the people around you. Or more like taking care of yourself as you’re taking care of the people around you.

Niki de Saint Phalle, the Empress, Tarot Garden in Garavicchio, Italy, Image via

Hm so, I think we can definitely see the birthing one’s passions part in the sculpture.

Yes, I think so! Living in that sculpture, it was the main place she was giving a lot of birth in in terms of cultivating and thinking about the rest of the garden and how she would create it. So, that gives off big Empress energy.

Also, come to think of it. That space inside the sculpture could almost be interpreted as a womb. She is kind of giving birth to herself…

Yes, totally!

OK moving on to: Death. Death, in the garden, only has a skeleton face, but the body of a voluptuous woman like the Nana sculptures the artist is known for. It’s riding a blue horse over a sea of green with limbs coming out of the water grabbing for it.

Well, that sounds very similar to the Death card in general. Like these arms and limbs reaching out for the skeleton riding the horse. But death is actually a beautiful thing as much as it is a scary thing. So, I do see the body still being alive, healthy, and beautiful speaks to death’s meaning of rebirth. It’s like the phoenix: as many times as you die you’re always reborn to potentially do things better than before. Make new connections. Start over.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Death, Tarot Garden in Garavicchio, Italy, Image via

Alright! I was wondering if there are cards that have more of a connection to one another than others? There is this massive piece in the garden that combines The High Priestess, The Magician, and the Wheel of Fortune.

Well, it could have just been a reading. A reading the artist had or a reading she is giving. You could think about it in that sense. You can have random cards linked together in a reading and they would tell a story or a message.

I love the idea of a reading. It adds another layer to the garden. It not just puts these figures next to one another, but it creates a connection and adds meaning. And it’s normal that cards come together in readings, so they’re in their natural state. I mean they usually come in a row of cards you don’t do one card readings, right?

You can do a one card reading, but usually they come in a group of three or more.

Then having three of them together like one big sculpture makes sense. Ok, last question: I feel like Tarot has been more in the public eye lately. Did you notice an uptick in interest in Tarot over the last couple years?

I think with everything being online it’s more accessible and readers can reach a larger audience. So yes, I do think it’s more popular now. Also, because we are in a new generation where it is not so taboo to talk about Tarot, Astrology, etc. I definitely think people are more open to different concepts and ideas in general. A lot of people had a reading before, know someone who had a reading, or may even have their own deck at home to look at and lay the cards for themselves. There’re more open conversations about Tarot than ever before!


03 FEBRUARY – 21 MAY 2023