Tracey Emin was born in Surrey, in England. She grew up in Margate, on the coast of Kent, with her twin brother Paul. She lived with her mother in a successful seaside hotel, where she claims she was treated “like a princess.” Her Turkish father lived with them for half of the week, spending the other half with his wife and other children. After a few years, Emin’s father left and took his money with him, leaving Emin’s mother bankrupt. The family was then forced to live in poverty; Emin later recalled that they had two meters, one for gas and one for electricity, but they could never afford to have them both on at the same time. When she was 13, Emin was raped; something that she later claimed “happened to a lot of girls.”
Emin left Margate to study fashion at the Medway College of Design between 1980 -1982, then studied for an MA in painting at the Royal College of Art, which she received in 1989. While she was still coming to terms with her own artistic practice, she influenced a reactive movement called Stuckism, which sought to promote figurative painting rather than the sort of conceptual art that Emin was focused on at the time. It was founded in 1999 by Emin’s ex-boyfriend Billy Childish. The movement’s name was inspired by Emin, when she had told Childish his paintings were “Stuck! Stuck! Stuck”. In 1993, Emin joined with Sarah Lucas to open a shop called “The Shop” in Bethnal Green, which was in the East End of London. They sold work by both artists, including anything from t-shirts to ash trays, to paper mache sex toys to dresses, adding a previously little-seen commercialism to their artistic practices, which would become a defining feature of Young British Art. Emin was nominated for the Turner Prize for her controversial work My Bed (1998). Only one British artist of the four nominated can win the prize, and Emin lost the Prize that year to Steve McQueen. The surrounding press coverage dubbed her the “bad girl of British art”.