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Tracey Emin was born on July 3, 1963 in Croydon, South London, England, to parents of British Romani and Turkish Cypriot descent. Emin grew up in Margate, in the Thanet district of East Kent, England, along with twin brother Paul. Her father owned the Hotel International in Margate, but when the business failed, the family suffered financially. She had some troubled times during her adolescence including being raped at the age of 13, an event that influenced much of her later artwork. Emin became pregnant when she was 18, and underwent an abortion.

After a troubled childhood and adolescence, Emin decided to study fashion at the Medway College of Design in 1980. There, she met boyfriend Billy Childish, who led her to become a member of The Medway Poets, an English punk-based performance art group in Medway, North Kent. After working for several years as an administrator for Hangman Books, which specialized in Children's poetry, Emin decided to pursue a career in art. She graduated from Maidstone College of Art in 1986 and moved to London, where she earned a Master of Arts degree in painting from the Royal College of Art in 1989. She also studied modern philosophy for a brief period at Birkbeck, University of London.

In 1993, with fellow artist Sarah Lucas, Emin opened "The Shop" in Bethnal Green, located on London's East End. There, she sold her pieces and asked for investments in her artwork, and soon met her future art dealer, Jay Jopling. In 1994, Emin had her first solo show, "My Major Retrospective," at the White Cube art gallery in London. The autobiographical exhibit consisted of photographs, pictures of earlier paintings and other personal objects, including a pack of cigarettes an uncle was holding when he was killed in a car crash. This public display of Emin's intimate life details soon became a trademark of her work.

Emin rose to fame with her 1995 piece titled "Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995," a blue tent appliqued with several names in needlework. The piece was later shown at the 1997 "Sensation" exhibit at the Royal Academy in London, and met with mixed reactions. In 1997, Emin, relatively unknown at the time, made headlines when she appeared intoxicated in a television interview, in which she spoke about recipients of the esteemed Turner Prize. Emin was short-listed for the prize two years later. Around the same time, she released the controversial piece "My Bed." The piece, which featured Emin's own bed in a state of disarray following a period of depression due to a failed relationship, attracted significant media attention.

In 1999, Emin released a themed exhibition titled "Temple of Diana," which included a series of drawings inspired by the life of Princess Diana. She went on to complete several drawings of friend and model Kate Moss, including "Kate Moss," in 2000. In 2007, at the age of 44, Emin was chosen to join the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 2011, her largest major solo exhibition, "Love is What You Want," was held at the Hayward Gallery in London. The exhibition surveyed paintings, drawings, textiles, sculptures and videos that Emin had produced throughout her career.

Emin has released several autobiographical films focused on her troubled childhood and teenage years. She's also written several books, most notably a 2005 memoir titled Strangeland. In 2011, Emin was appointed as a professor of drawing at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The following year, she was chosen to create a limited edition print for both the 2012 Olympics (London) and the 2012 Paralympic Games.