Khadija Saye, aged 24 years old was one of the people who lost her life to the Grenfell Tower fire, London UK of Wednesday June 14, 2017. A fire which took 58 lives including Khadija’s and her 52 year old mother’s Mary Mendy. Over 500 people were also left homeless. Shortly before her death, at 3 a.m. Khadija, sent this «There’s a fire in my council block. I can’t leave the flat. Please pray for me and my mum» facebook message to her friends.
This message demonstrated the inner spirituality and faith of Khadija. Attributes she searched for all her life. Child of a Gambian mother, Mary Mendy and born into a multi faith household, Khadija was strongly influenced by her background and people around her. She found expression in her art work using the 19th century photographic process of wet plate Collidion Tintypes which involves developing photographic images and pouring them directly unto alluminium plates. For Khadija, the process of pouring the collodion onto the alluminium plate was deeply symbolic and reminded her of the baptisimal process of pouring of water over the person to wash away sins. (Khadija Saye, Instragram).
Her work which explores Gambian spirituality transcends specific religion and regions as she explores identity, diaspora, spirituality and religion to satisfy her deep rooted urge to find solace within a higher power. Exploring the migration of traditional Gambian spiritual practices, Khadija expresses them in beautiful series Dwelling: In This Space We Breath, produced with artist Almudena Romero. The series, on display at 57th Venice Biennale, in the Diaspora Pavilion runs from the May 13 to November 26, 2017.
She shared her joy at being a part of the Diaspora Exhibition in Venice with a Facebook posting: “It’s been a real journey, tears shed, highs and lows, but mama, I’m an artist exhibiting at the Venice Biennale and the blessings are abundant!” She had previously exhibited her series Crownedat the Mall Galleries, in 2014 in the ING Discerning Eye exhibition–as a guest of artist curator,Nicola Green
Khadija Saye’s story is inspirational and needs to be told so that young girls can learn from how much can be achieved with determination and confidence in one self no matter how short the life. Born in London she lived at Grenfell Tower with her mother and grew up in Notthing Hill area. Khadija attended school locally but at 16, received a full scholarship to the prestigious Rugby School. This presented both an opportunity and a challenge for the young Khadija. An opportunity to benefit from a top quality education which she highly appreciated but discerned that this was something that the other students who came from mostly privileged backgrounds took for granted.
She was challenged by the fact that she lived in Grenfell Tower and the other children came from privileged homes. Turning this challenge into a strength she decided to work on her confidence and self-esteem. It was not where you lived that determined who you were but your character was the defining factor. She worked towards achieving this goal and from all indications it was a success for she went on graduate from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham.
Art was also an unknown world for Khadija. According to Nicola Green «She didn’t know anyone in the art world, she didn’t come from that world, but she was so clear about her own work and her desire to create ». She also had no money. Supporting herself, she used her own money to fund her own work. It was her determination to succeed that brought her to Venice where her remarkably, powerful, original series of works caught the eye of Andrew Nairne, director of Kettle’s Yard Gallery. He made an appointment with Saye to a meeting which would have opened up other avenues for her but her untimely death did not permit this to happen.
Described by her friends, David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and wife Nicola Green as “a beautiful soul an emerging artist”,Lou Johnson and other university friends as a selfless person who loved to be of service to others, Khadija must have shared these characteristics with her mother Mary Mendy. For, according to Batch Ndow a former colleague of Mary’s: « Her mum, Mary Mendy is a great woman. I worked with her at the President’s Award Scheme which is now called the President’s International Awards Scheme.»
Mary continued to give to humanity as she worked as a care giver in the UK and took part of her salary to buy books, school materials and equipment for less privileged children \in The Gambia. It is sad that two remarkable women who touched the lives of many and made such wonderful contributions to life should have their own cut down in such a painful way.
They have gone but their lives live on through Khadija’s art work.