‘I lived it’ … Tracey Emin’s The Last of the Gold, 2002.
The Last of the Gold was created by the artist to support ladies thinking about becoming pregnant. The piece appears more powerful than ever given that the subject will be prominent in tomorrow’s US midterm elections
“I felt pretty vulnerable. I was so broke, homeless, in debt … I had worked so hard at my education and coming from my background … I knew I wanted to be an artist and I knew that if I had a baby on my own, I felt that I had zero chance of that happening. It seemed ironic that now after all my education and fighting … that I was going to end up being a single mother … And I just thought, I can’t bring a baby into the world with all this …”
Tracey Emin used these terms to describe her two abortions during the early 1990s. They draw attention to the hardships that so many women face globally. Emin has been producing very political art for years. She exposes the ugliness and realities of life via painting, textiles, films, and other mediums. Although she has studied abortion extensively, its significance in her work has too often been downplayed.
She spoke openly about her experience with a male doctor who conducted one of her abortions in 1996 for her film How It Feels, which was filmed outside the clinic where she got the procedure: “He told me it was too late.” He gave me a photo of his kid, and he told me what a great mother I would be, she continues. “Refused to sign the papers for me to have an abortion,” he said after that.
“The doctor should not have had beliefs for me”
This physician just regarded Emin as a mother-to-be, with no other goals for her life. She was made to live with her fetus for six weeks longer than she should have by doing this and postponing the operation. This emphasizes how hazardous it is to have individuals in positions of authority who lack experience giving advise or imposing their own ideologies on others who are weaker – particularly when they are unaware of the emotional and physical repercussions. He shouldn’t have had convictions about me, as Emin recalls in the movie.
Emin created The Last of the Gold, a quilted blanket that features the “A to Z of abortion,” in 2002 to aid individuals in a similar predicament. The artist just informed me that she would have “100%” desired this when she was younger. The underlying idea, she said, “is that there is very little information or counsel to provide women in such position. I am sure it is completely out of date today. I thus reasoned at the time, “Why not place it across the gallery wall? ’”
Others are emotional: “You may feel in a state of euphoria from the relief, be careful as depression may follow.” Some advice is practical: “Insist on having an abortion as soon as possible – if you have the money (300 pounds) you can be treated within 24 hours. If you go through the NHS you may have to wait up to six weeks depending on availability, but then they may say no.”
‘Just listen to your heart’ … Tracey Emin earlier this year in Margate. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian
Despite being released 20 years ago, The Last of the Gold is tragically still relevant, particularly in light of the US supreme court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade and give state governors the authority to determine whether or not to enact abortion restrictions. Abortion is now prohibited in 13 states. Georgia forbids abortions beyond six weeks, when the majority of women are still unaware they are pregnant.
Abortion will be a determining issue in several midterm elections tomorrow. The topic is on par with inflation in Michigan, a battleground state where Democrat Elissa Slotkin is vying for re-election against Republican Tom Barrett, who is “100% pro-life, no exceptions.” Barrett and Slotkin competed head-to-head for a period. But since September, her support has increased in part because Republican-voting women in Michigan are worried about Roe v. Wade being overturned.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Slotkin recently told the Guardian. “Everywhere I go, Democrats, Independents and Republicans are talking about this issue. They’re talking about how scared they are of a 1931 abortion ban coming back in Michigan. They don’t want it.”
Emin’s raw accounts expose, on a human level, the precariousness of women’s situation. “I lived it,” Emin told me. “And I know what it was like to make that choice. When I make work about that subject, it’s not a fake idea or a fake notion or just a political statement. It’s a heartfelt, gut-felt, heartbreaking decision that I had to make.”
Her blanket concludes with this advice: “And most important, if you do decide you want to have the baby, don’t listen to anyone, just listen to your heart.” Depending on how the elections pan out this week, many women in America may need Emin’s work more than ever.