Emilia Kabakov attended the Music College in Irkutsk in addition to studying Spanish and literature at Moscow University. In 1975 she moved to New York where she worked as a curator and art dealer.

The work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov has been shown widely including in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Documenta IX, at the Whitney Biennial in 1997 and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. In 1993 they represented Russia at the 45th Venice Biennale with their installation The Red Pavilion. The Kabakovs have also completed major public commissions throughout Europe and have received a number of honours and awards, including the Oscar Kokoschka Preis, Vienna in 2002 and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, Paris in 1995.

After studying at the VA Surikov Art Academy in Moscow, Ilya Kabakov began his career as a children's book illustrator in the 1950s. He was part of a group of Conceptual artists in Moscow who worked outside the official Soviet art system. In 1985, Kabakov had his first solo exhibition at Dina Vierny Gallery, Paris.

In 1988 he began working with his wife Emilia and from this point onwards, all their work was collaborative in different proportions according to the specific project involved. Today Kabakov is recognized as the most important Russian artist to have emerged in the late 20th century.