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Tracey Emin

'All clear': Tracey Emin says she is finally free of cancer

Artist also slams government decision to re-open museums in England next month

Tracey Emin in front of This is life without you - You made me Feel Like This (2018), on display at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2020 Loan courtesy of Collection Majudia © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Photo: © David Parry

The artist Tracey Emin, who was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder last year, says she has been given the all-clear by doctors. In an interview with BBC’s Newsnight, which is due to be screened at 22.45 BST today, Emin says the cancer has “gone” after major surgery.

The artist reached a “big big milestone” after getting the all-clear during her three-monthly scans last week; she will now move to annual scans, she said. The Royal Academy of Arts in London—which is hosting Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul—tweeted: “Just simply wonderful news.” The exhibition has been extended until 1 August (the show is due to re-open on 18 May subject to Covid-19 restrictions).

Emin described the gruelling procedure she underwent. “It was full-blown squamous cell cancer, and so aggressive that they couldn’t just remove the tumour”, she told the dealer Kenny Schachter in an interview last year. “Within three weeks they removed my bladder, my urethra, my lymph nodes, gave me a full hysterectomy and took out half of my vagina—so that was my summer, really.”

The extensive surgery meant her bladder cancer "couldn't actually latch on to anything else", said Emin. Bladder cancer is the tenth most common cancer in the UK (the most common symptom is blood in the urine). Emin now wears a urostomy drainage bag. "I never realised how much I wanted to live until I thought I was going to die," she said.

Our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck wrote last year that this “human dynamo seems to be doing more in convalescence than most people manage in full health”. Work continues on Emin’s vast new studio in her childhood home of Margate, encompassing 30,000 feet at the old Thanet Press site in the town centre. Meanwhile, her 9m-high bronze sculpture The Mother will be shipped from London to Oslo over the summer and should be in situ, overlooking Oslo waterfront, by the end of the year after initial delays.

Emin also told the BBC that the government plan to reopen museums on 17 May in England is a "big mistake", describing the decision as “absolutely ridiculous”. The official guidance issued by the UK government states that “indoor entertainment, such as museums, cinemas and children’s play areas” can open from 17 May at the earliest, in “step three” of its roadmap strategy.

"I think it's because the majority of the government at the moment have never probably been to museums or art galleries," she said. "If they had and if they knew and if they knew the soulful benefits of looking at art, they would have kept them open or found some system to make it work."