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Can Tracey Emin Help Restore the Reputation of the British Museum?


“It’s one of my favourite museums in the entire world,” said artist Tracey Emin about the British Museum upon joining its board of trustees this week. “I love everything Egyptian.”

The visual artist made history yesterday, November 15, when she became the first female Royal Academician (a member of London’s Royal Academy of the Arts) to be named a trustee at the institution.

Emin’s line about loving “everything Egyptian” may fall flat for some readers considering the murky status of the British Museum’s contentious relationship with its long-term sponsor, British Petroleum (BP), which maintains close ties with Egypt’s current autocratic President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in the interest of further exploration of the nation’s oil reserves. Aside from its continued acceptance of oil funding, the museum has been routinely criticized for its refusal to repatriate cultural artifacts including Greece’s Parthenon Marbles and the Benin Bronzes.

A member of the Young British Artists, Emin rose to prominence in the mid-1990s through her controversial and confessional body of work. Some of her most iconic pieces include “My Bed” (1998), an installation consisting of her actual stained and disheveled bed surrounded with objects like empty alcohol bottles, soiled underwear, and condoms following a four-day depressive episode; and “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With, 1963–1995” (1995), a sewn-fabric tent internally lined with the names of every person Emin ever shared a bed within her lifetime.

Perhaps the British Museum has something to learn from Emin’s ability to archive, considering it only recently announced its commitment to digitizing its entire collection after it was revealed that some 2,000 objects were stolen by a staff member — some of which appeared for resale on eBay.

Emin did not immediately respond to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment regarding the current climate at the museum, though she expressed in her statement that she hopes her presence will “be a positive contribution.”



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