💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
An anonymous group called the Anti Flower Show Movement is covering Philly surfaces with street art stickers depicting a grainy black and white photo of a young child.
The group has apparently been doing this for a couple of years, but the stickers recently caught enough attention that Billy Penn was asked to uncover who’s behind them. Tracking their origins sent us on a wild goose chase — though we eventually turned up some useful information.
Some of what we’ve learned: The image is likely from a German postcard. It dates to the 1900s. The girl may or may not be named “Nancy.”
This was all gleaned by sifting through Instagram comments and tags, navigating an e-commerce webform with a glitch, chatting with a previous investigator of the sticker, and exchanging emails with the “Salad Man.” No turning back now.
To get started, we messaged Eric Dale, a street art aficionado who leads tours around the city.
He pointed us in the direction of the Anti Flower Show Movement, a local brand apparently using the stickers and wheatpastes as for some sort of “guerilla marketing,” he said.
Billy Penn messaged the Anti Flower Show Movement via the form on their website, which, seemingly because of a glitch, forces you to put your email in the space reserved for the email and the space where the message belongs.
That means we had to put a quick one-liner in the subject line and hope for the best. In response to our message, a self-named “Salad Man” replied.
What is the Anti Flower Show Movement?
Salad Man was the nameless spokesperson for the leader of the Anti Flower Show Movement in an email conversation with Billy Penn. He later identified himself as one of many “volunteers” with the movement.
Through Salad Man, another anonymous person said they started leading the brand in 2016. They were raised in a small, dull area about an hour outside of Philly, they said, and now live in the city. They’ve stayed in the neighborhood around Temple for the last few months, they said.
“We try our best to confuse people,” the AFSM contact said about the brand via email. We want people to start discussion. Too many people are distracted by mediocrity.”
On first visit to the straightforward webpage, it looks like a simple streetwear brand offering up screen-printed and embroidered tees, hoodies and hats, some sticker packs and a $300 piece of canvas art.
A three-year-old Reddit thread suggests the brand launched in Oct. 2017 with colorful embroidered hoodies. In the same Reddit thread, the original poster Lil Neek said the brand’s name is intentionally facetious.
“Who would be against a flower show? No one; because it’s silly,” they wrote at the time. “People around the world waste too much energy being against things that don’t harm or affect their daily life. It’s a negative energy that too many people carry.”
A description for some of the items sold on the site say they’re screen printed in Philadelphia.
Per the brand’s own account, it’s “an idea that sparks an interest in others to break free from a cycle.”
Who’s behind it?
Remember the Redditer named Lil Neek? Well, a Depop account linked to a Lil Neek sells AFSM samples. So naturally we have no choice but to believe that Lil Neek runs the brand.
There is, however, the confusing disclaimer on the AFSM page that explicitly contradicts this, saying Lil Neek has taken over AFSM social media and sought to use it for personal gain. We’re confused and honestly have no more information.
Interesting, tell me more.
A new IG-based culture zine called Suits and Sage helmed an investigation into the stickers’ origins. Their article outlined the intention of the hunt: “Who is this girl? Who’s putting the pictures up, and perhaps most importantly, why?”
The person behind Suits and Sage is a 16-year-old Philadelphian named Steph Prizhitomsky. Steph focused on the image, one she’d inadvertently taken about 50 photos of on the street, she told Billy Penn.
An hours-long reverse image search led Steph to a New York City postcard archive that identified the image as a photo from the early 1900s. The diligent investigator behind Suits and Sage reached out to the archivist who sent them the original postcard and a bit more info about it: The girl’s image appears in a German, Christmas greeting postcard likely made between 1907 and 1912.
More searching led Suits and Sage to the same place Billy Penn arrived: the Anti Flower Show Movement.
Does this photo mean anything to AFSM?
When asked, the AFSM rep relayed this info to Billy Penn through Salad Man:
THROUGH EXPERIMENTATION AND PSYCHOLOGY TESTS, THE COMMITTEE HAS PRODUCED AN IMAGE THAT FORCES THE CONSUMER TO DRAW MANY CONCLUSIONS TO FAMILIAR FACES. IT IS NOT CHARLES MANSON, AND IT IS NOT ANNE FRANK. IT IS INTERESTING, HUMANS FIRST CONCLUSION TO OUR EXPERIMENT WERE EITHER A MURDER, OR A PRISONER.
In an email to Suits and Sage, AFSM said they stumbled upon the image while learning to print screen and that the girl’s face “really spoke to” them.
AFSM named the girl depicted in the image “Nancy.”
Where are the photos posted?
The photos first appeared about two years ago as wheatpastes put up around Tattooed Moms, AFSM said. The brand started producing the stickers more regularly in 2020, and told Suits and Sage they’ve produced more than 7,500.
Volunteer Salad Man said they’ve “met other volunteers for AFSM from almost every state that have participated in sticker slapping.”
So while Philly might be ground zero for Nancy’s face, the image reaches beyond the city limits.
What’s the point of it all?
AFSM said the brand’s main priority is to make the world a better place by encouraging deeper thought and community engagement. One of their street art campaigns featured Nancy’s photo with the words “Vote.”
“I hope AFSM can remain to make a change in society while we adapt to the future,” AFSM told Billy Penn.
And just like that, as stealthily as they had appeared, Salad Man and “Lil Neek” were gone.
“I am sorry I can not provide answers to any of these new questions,” Salad Man wrote. “It is very rarely AFSM passes information to someone else.”