Tracey Emin says she has “never been so happy” after undergoing “dramatic” surgery following her cancer diagnosis.
The artist, 57, was diagnosed early last year after discovering a tumour in her bladder while working on a painting of a malignant lump.
She had surgery last summer, with many of her reproductive organs being removed, and she was fitted with a stoma bag and was later told the cancer had gone.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Wednesday, she said she would consider reconstructive surgery in the long term but was focused on enjoying life, despite suffering chronic pain.
She said: “Sounds weird but I’ve never been so happy. So some people would feel very unhappy in my situation now. But I realise how amazing my life is. And I never realised before.”
Emin, known for headline-grabbing works such as the tent Everyone I Have Ever Slept With and My Bed, compared her major surgery to having a child or gender reassignment.
She added: “I think anyone that’s had this sort of dramatic surgery understands what I’m talking about. But actually, there’s not that many people.
“It is probably the same as maybe someone who has had a sex change, about what you would have to do to get it back.
“But at the moment, I’m just really happy to get my life back. And I’m not being greedy.
“I go from deliriously happy to, ‘Oh dear, now I’ve got to get on with it’.
“I think it’s a bit like having a baby – you have a baby and you’re pregnant and it’s really difficult, the pregnancy, and then you have the baby and you think, ‘Now it’s the rest of my life’.
“And so now, with this surgery and with everything, am I so happy to be alive. And now I’ve got to get on with the consequences of it all.”
Asked why people felt the urge to experience other people’s pain through art, Emin said: “It’s really interesting you should say that because a lot of people didn’t. There were a lot of people slagging me off for it.
“Twenty years ago people said: ‘We don’t want to hear about her rape. We don’t want to hear about her abortion. We don’t want to hear about her loneliness. We don’t want to hear about her upbringing. We don’t want to hear about her child abuse.’
“Yes, you do. Because society needs to hear about those things and discuss those things, because they are still happening. And now, thanks to Me Too and women campaigning, I have an open forum to talk about what I like without being called a moaner or a whinger or a whiner or a narcissist.”
Emin appeared on the show to discuss her exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, The Loneliness of the Soul, which pairs her recent artworks with those of Norwegian painter and printmaker Edvard Munch, known for his world-famous painting The Scream.
After the most recent lockdown forced its closure, the exhibition will reopen from May 18 with reduced capacity.
Reflecting on the paintings she chose for the show, Emin said: “What was interesting, we spent three years working on this show, and curating it and putting it together.
“And of course, most of that time I had cancer without realising. And so when you go into the show and you see the images that I chose in my work, they’re quite bloody, quite painful.
“And there’s a lot of womb images and a lot of blood and a lot of heartfelt, bloody emotion.”