Tracey Emin is one of the most famous and controversial artists to come out of the United Kingdom in decades. She was born in Croydon, a suburb of South London, on July 3 of 1963 to unwed parents, her mother of English origin and her father of Turkish Cypriot descent. They raised her in the seaside city of Margate, where she had a difficult time during her teenage years, later expressed in vivid detail through her artwork. By the 1990’s Emin had made it onto the world stage of contemporary art as one of the most celebrated YBA’s (Young British Artists). Although she has turned her personal tragedies into a form of cultural currency, her success has not come without sacrifice.
Lauded as a significant figure in contemporary feminist art for her confessional tone, Emin wholeheartedly embraces the feminist adage “the personal is political”. In interviews she speaks candidly about being raped at age thirteen, getting pregnant at age eighteen, having two abortions and three miscarriages. By exposing the intimate details of her own life and the emotional scars of abuse and trauma that women are frequently conditioned to conceal, Emin creates an empowering dialogue about feminine existence.
I’ve Got It All (2000) is an enlarged Polaroid snapshot of Emin that contains many significant themes that run throughout her art practice – sexuality, intimacy, honesty, exposure, rawness, and the repressed anger that typically accompanies emotional pain. Sitting on a rust red floor in a low-cut Vivienne Westwood dress, legs splayed, Emin attempts to gather a pile of British currency that seems to spew uncontrollably from her loins. The context of when this image was created is essential to its central interpretation. In 1999 Emin was selected as a nominee for the Turner Prize. Although she didn’t win, her controversial piece My Bed (1998) inspired such a media frenzy that she overshadowed the actual winner. I’ve Got It All is clearly a celebration of triumph in the face of challenging odds.
An alternative interpretation to the celebrative tone of I’ve Got It All (2000) considers the title as sarcastic. Emin has been open about discussing the fact that she never had children. “I would have been so much happier had I not had the abortions, but I truly believe that I would have been so much unhappier if I had had the children." She has been heavily criticized for suggesting that motherhood and successful careers cannot exist simultaneously. However, she has opened up a very relevant discourse on an issue on the choice of childbirth that most serious career woman, and certainly every female artist, has contemplated by the time they have reached age 40. Emin was 37 when this photo was taken. The wealth portrayed in I’ve Got It All is a lifeless substitute for the children that she never had. But, while Emin has never carried any of her pregnancies to full term, she has given birth to art works and ideas that will far outlive her self; they are her carefully chosen legacy.
“Tracey Emin: I’ve Got It All. Saatchi Gallery. www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/tracey_emin_i_got_all.htm. Accessed Oct 25, 2016.
Digiulio, Lauren. “How Tracey Emin Conquered the World.” Idiom, September 28th, 2011, idiommag.com/2011/09/how-tracey-emin-conquered-the-world. Accessed Oct. 26, 2016.
Ward, Ossian. “Tracey Emin: No Bedtime Story.” Art in America, June 2011 Issue, pages unknown, www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/tracey-emin. Accessed Oct. 27, 2016.
“Biography.” Tracey Emin Studio, www.traceyeminstudio.com/biography. Accessed on Oct. 26, 2016.
Biography.com Editors. “Tracey Emin Biography.” A&E Television Networks,
www.biography.com/people/tracey-emin-20891535. Accessed Oct 26, 2016.
“Tracey Emin in Confidence.” YouTube, uploaded by braitnicho, Aug. 3, 2013,
“Tracey Emin - The South Bank Show.” YouTube, uploaded by VHS Pile, Feb 21, 2013. www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxaoAy9oNtY#t=262.466757.
“BBC HARDTalk with Tracey Emin” (Stephen Sackur Interviews Tracey Emin) YouTube, uploaded by BBC Hardtalk, Jun 12, 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=og5FqDxPUKg
Clearwater, Bonnie. “Roving Eye: A Happy Tracey Emin.” Art in America, Dec 19, 2011. www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/news/roving-eye-tracey-emin. Accessed Oct. 27, 2016.
Jones, Liz. “A life more Eminent: Tracey Emin opens up her intimate photo memoir - and tells Liz Jones why her 'not always palatable' past has shaped her life's work.” Daily Mail Online, April 20, 2013. www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2311050/Tracey-Emin-opens-intimate-photo-memoir-tells-Liz-Jones-past-shaped-lifes-work.html, Accessed Oct. 26, 2016
Manchester, Elizabeth. “Tracey Emin: Terribly Wrong.” Tate, July 2000. www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/emin-terribly-wrong-p11565/text-summary. Accessed Oct. 26, 2016.
Tracey Emin: 'I felt that, in return for my children's souls, I had been given my success’.” Independent, Jan. 28, 2009, www.independent.co.uk/voices/columnists/tracey-emin/tracey-emin-i-felt-that-in-return-for-my-childrens-souls-i-had-been-given-my-success-1518934.html. Accessed Oct. 27, 2016.
Urist, Jacoba. “Why can’t great artists be mothers?” NY Times, May 21, 2015. nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/05/21/why-cant-great-artists-be-mothers. Accessed Oct 26, 2016.
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Holly Marie Armishaw
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Holly Marie Armishaw is a contemporary artist, art writer, francophile, and world traveler. Through rigorous exploration of inspiration from international sources of art and culture, she infuses her insights with a critical eye as she discusses global trends. Both her art and writing are informed by attending a continuous array of art exhibitions, lectures, fairs and biennales, both at home and abroad.