Emery Kate Tillman

Must I Behave, 2018

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Embroidery and thread
8.0 x 6.0 in (20.3 x 15.2 cm)


This work ships from New Orleans, LA, US.


"On paper, I had what might be considered an ideal childhood, minus the trauma of living through Hurricane Katrina. I cannot discount the privileges I feel lucky to have been raised with—I had parents who were kind and generous, and I received a good education. Admittedly, my parents were also very conservative, and my town undeniably fell under the same umbrella. So despite my privileges, my upbringing not only shielded me from being exposed to words like “lesbian,” but also fostered a playground culture, in which “gay” was used as an insult. I will never forget the horror of being called “gay” in the 8th grade by someone I had considered a friend. Being called gay not only became one of the worst moments I ever experienced throughout middle school, but was even more difficult to consistently deny, because it was true. To this day, I have never denied anything harder than someone else’s proclamation of my own sexuality than I did when I was 14. The experience was in fact so paralyzing, that it took me almost five years to timidly whisper, “I think I like women,” to my best friend; eight years to tell my parents; and ten years for me—for myself—to finally feel comfortable in my sexuality. As a lesbian who felt uncomfortable being honest about my identity for so many years, I immediately connected to Eleanor and Hick’s letters, which I feel lucky to have discovered by chance on a blog. Letters—especially love letters—have always been important to me. In boarding school, letters served as my main source of communication with my parents, and was undeniably informed by remembering their own letter-writing days. Growing up, my dad would travel for work overseas, and be gone for a month or so at a time, during which he would write my mom almost daily. When my mom was pregnant with both me and my older sister, my dad would write letters to us before we were born. As sappy as they may have been, these letters have been kept, and represent my personal appreciation for the art of letter writing despite physical separation. I found out about Eleanor and Hick’s love letters by chance on a blog I read, and I immediately knew I had to make work about them. I didn’t only relate to Eleanor’s story, but I also profoundly looked up to her as one of the most remarkable First Ladies in U.S. History. Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the level of accountability of the position from being a role rooted in domesticity, to one that put the First Lady at the forefront of politics, particularly advocating for human and women’s rights. When I found the letters from Eleanor to Hick, I realized how much I looked up to Eleanor. Her work as First Lady showcases her natural propensity towards empathy, also reflected her letters to Hick. These letters reveal the two highly influential women in moments of candor, during which they didn’t have to put on an act for anyone else, and felt free to be whom they were, and could only be do on paper. Eleanor and Hick used letter writing as a means of escaping the confines of reality, and feeling connected to one other when being together physically wasn’t an option. I hope one day I find someone who I can write over 3,500 letters to and share the connection that Eleanor and Hick shared. A world of love, " -Emery Kate Tillman

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About Emery Kate Tillman

Emery Kate Tillman is an emerging textile artist whose work focuses on the hidden and intimate conversations of history, especially relating to the female and queer experience.