Just a mile from Grenfell tower, the Notting Hill streets are now lined with nine reproductions of Khadija Saye’s breathtaking photography work. The British-Gambian artist was only 24 years old when she lost her life alongside 71 others in the 2017 Grenfell tower blaze.
David Lammy, Tottenham MP and friend of Saye, said he remembered her “tender, beautiful and creative soul”. He added that “this exhibition reminds us of the dignity and humanity with which we remember those who lost their lives.”
Yesterday Lammy unveiled the posthumous installation ‘In This Space We Breathe’ on the façade of 236 Westbourne Grove to a large, socially distanced crowd. The nine silkscreen prints explore Saye’s own Gambian-British identity and the migration of traditional spiritual practices.
Before she died, Saye explained “the series was created from a personal need for spiritual grounding after experiencing trauma … the search for what gives meaning to our lives and what we hold onto in times of despair and life changing challenges.”
The powerful works were originally exhibited at the renowned Venice Biennale in 2017, where Saye was the youngest exhibitor in the ‘Diaspora Pavilion’. Although only 24, Saye achieved recognition as a promisingly talented artist; she had visited an influential gallery director only the day before she died.
‘In This Space We Breathe’ is the first of three outside exhibitions in Notting Hill that aim to promote diversity in the arts. The exhibition’s curator, Sigrid Kirk, explained that the project was “very much a response to the issues of inequality, racism and injustice… I felt very strongly that we had to act and not just virtue signal.”
Alongside the exhibitions, Lammy has also introduced an educational initiative in honour of the young artist. The ‘Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme’ will focus on developing the arts in disadvantaged communities across the country through mentoring schemes and public exhibitions.
Saye participated in similar schemes organised by IntoUniversity from the age of 7 and later won a coveted Arnold Foundation scholarship to the Rugby school sixth form.
“Speaking as a white person we often find it very hard to understand the support systems we have from childhood that we take for granted, and the opportunities that they bring to us. Khadija had to find those networks for herself,” explained Nicola Green, the administrator of the Khadija Saye estate.
With many museums and galleries still closed due to Covid-19, the new exhibition and programme aims to provide support to young people from diverse backgrounds in a time of unprecedented uncertainty for the arts.
“It is our deep hope that there will be many many hundreds of Khadijas in the years to come,” remarked Lammy. “I hope that the eight- or nine-year old who walks past in the next few months steps back, breathes and is inspired.”