Emma Franks (b. 1972), visual artist and Jewish feminist, was raised in Essex and now lives and works in London. She is engaged with themes of intersectional identity and the many taboos facing women and patriarchal ideals of womanhood. A multidisciplinary artist who creates paintings, costumes, performance and artist books, Emma has made work about pregnancy, motherhood, the menopause, and mental illness. Emma endeavours to make work that is raw and based on her own truth which is sometimes shocking in its refusal to sugar coat these subjects. Her deeply personal practice combines lived experiences with strong imagery and personal symbols of power, as well as feminist icons, in rebelliously humorous works.
Emma studied Fine Art at Brighton University (1994), Art Psychotherapy at Hertfordshire University (1999) and Studio Painting at Turps Banana Art School (2023). Franks previously worked within state education and the National Health Service, in addition to being a practising artist. Recent exhibitions in London include Turps Banana Leavers Show, Naissance Re-Naissance Unit Gallery London, and Recreational Grounds VII (2023); Love, Celebration and the Road Ahead, TJ Boulting (2022); Mood Times Ten, Fitzrovia Gallery (2022); 50:50, Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution (2019); and The Stratford Gallery (2018).
Statement of Work
It’s almost impossible when talking about my work to not mention Lilith and then it becomes even more difficult to not describe my background. My work is deeply connected to lived experience and therefore my identity as a British Jewish woman. My identification with Lilith was born from this.
A brief history of my background – I grew up in Southend, to parents that had grown up in immigrant Jewish East End families. My fathers family had lived in the same small area of Bethnal Green since the late 1700’s, my mothers grandmother was from Poland and paternal family from Russia, both escaping antisemitism in Eastern Europe. Our home was a culturally and religiously rich environment and like most Jewish families deeply patriarchal. I was raised to be a good Jewish girl who would marry a nice Jewish boy and we would raise a family that continued the rich Jewish customs that had come before me. As a Jew, the trauma of ancestral antisemitism and the Holocaust has also shaped my identity. In brief, I was brought up to be submissive, not make a fuss, constantly put others’ needs before my own and see my achievements only within the domestic sphere. All have contributed to forever feeling like an outsider and struggling with low self-confidence.
Lilith – as rebel and symbol of Jewish female power
Preoccupied with finding strong Jewish female role models, it was during a visit to The British Museum Exhibition on Female Power that I chanced upon a bowl from 500 AD which showed a small drawing of Lilith in the centre. I was immediately drawn to this ancient depiction, repeatedly sketching her and including it in many of my works. It was after reading the book Jewish Identities In American Feminist Art by Lisa E Bloom, that I began to use Lilith as protagonist and eventually as the ‘founding mother’ in the performance and creation of the first feminist religion ‘The 13th Tribe’. Finding Lilith has been an important journey to reclaim and inhabit an identity as a strong Jewish woman, feminist and artist.
Articles and Interviews
Maternal Art Interview with Director Helen Sargeant