This unusual self-portrait by one of Britain’s most celebrated contemporary artists draws on the historical tradition of the death mask.

The work is one of four casts of the artist’s face made in 2002. Each mask was cast in bronze with a different patina and finish.

Tracey Emin grew up in Margate and studied at Maidstone College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. She came to prominence in the 1990s as part of the YBA movement. Her most famous works, My Bed (1998), and an embroidered tent entitled Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (1995), can both be seen as unconventional types of self-portrait.

Death masks were traditionally cast as memorials for important people, mostly men. Emin’s Death Mask makes an ironic gesture by being cast during her lifetime, and a political point by challenging the predominance of male subjects in the form. The work is displayed on red fabric, a material from the traditionally feminine domestic sphere which refers to the artist’s frequent use of textiles in her practice.

The National Portrait Gallery holds a large collection of life and death masks, including casts of the faces of John Keats and William Blake. Emin’s Death Mask now joins them there as both a likeness of the artist and as a significant work in its own right.


The artist through White Cube Gallery.

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