“Craftwork presents a simplicity and security not often associated with sensation. Through the action of “sewing” out her stories, Emin adds an extra personal touch to her work, making it more believable and genuine. She is literally spinning the yarn of her life: ancient diary entries, love letters, childhood memories, conversations she’s never forgotten. It’s storytelling in the tradition of folk art, patching security blankets for healing and nurture.” (P. ELLIS in C. Saatchi and P. Ellis, 100: The Work that Changed British Art, London, 2003, p. 209)
With its delicate hand-stitched illustrations and bold textual statement, Chinese Girls (2002) is a powerful example of Tracey Emin’s seminal series of appliquéd blankets that resonates on both humanitarian and personal levels, witnessing the coincidence of Emin’s deeply personal vernacular with an empathetic sense of social responsibility. Rendered in sober autumnal tones, the upper half of the blanket presents three Chinese babies depicted in intricate stitches, the vulnerability of their infancy underscored by the soft tactility of the fleece fabric into which they are embroidered. In the composition, Emin’s distinctive approach to drawing, with its broken lines and delicate graphic contours, meets her expressive embroidery practice. Transforming the traditionally feminine craft of quilt making into an arena of self-expression, here we see Emin incorporate a political subtext that nonetheless resonates with her own personal concerns. While the medium is reminiscent of a child’s comfort blanket, invoking notions of warmth and security, her use of graphic text is evocative of the banners paraded in political and civic demonstrations. Below the embroidered babies, impassioned red capital letters proclaim ‘SOMETIMES I WANT TO HAVE CHILDREN’, and then in Emin’s own familiar italicised script, ‘not my own but other people’s children Chinese People’s Children’. Chinese Girls weaves together Emin’s feelings towards motherhood with a meditation on the legacy of China’s One-Child Policy and the East-West traffic of globalisation. The final bewildered cry, ‘AND SOMETIMES I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE WORLD’, captures the introspective yet profoundly expressive aesthetic that characterizes the artist’s practice. Emin appropriates the tradition of handicraft that fuelled the feminist art of the ’60s and ’70s to compose a work that resonates at a global level. Yearning and mournful, personal and political, in Chinese Girls, Emin weaves her personal narrative with a broader experience of the world.