In 2017, 24-year-old Khadija Saye was the youngest artist to exhibit in Venice Biennale’s Diaspora Pavilion, alongside leading names including Isaac Julien and Yinka Shonibare. Just one month later, she died alongside her mother in the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, which claimed the lives of seventy-two people.
‘Dwelling: in this space we breathe’ is a series of nine striking self-portrait tintypes that explore Saye’s Gambian heritage and mixed faith background – her mother was Christian and her father is Muslim. Six of these tintypes were on display in Venice and in that same year she collaborated with the Studio of Nicola Green and Jealous to create a silkscreen print of one of the tintypes, titled ‘Sothiou’. Raw scans of the eight remaining tintypes have been recovered to create a portfolio of nine screenprints in an edition of fifty, including the original signed, numbered and dated screenprint of ‘Sothiou’.
All nine self-portraits are currently on public view in London’s Westbourne Grove in a display titled ‘in this space we breathe’ to mark the launch of a program founded in Saye’s memory.
The Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme aims to address the issue of diversity in the UK arts sector by providing opportunities for young people from deprived and ethnic minority backgrounds. It was launched by artist Nicola Green, who employed Saye as a studio assistant, and IntoUniversity, an UK education charity who nurtured Saye from the age of seven.
“IntoUniversity supported Khadija in her journey to university, and is also an education access charity that UBS has partnered with for more than ten years through our Community Affairs programme in the UK,” says Louise Evans, Regional Manager of the UBS Art Collection. In 2019 the UBS Art Collection acquired an edition of Saye’s ‘in this space we breathe’ portfolio. “Produced posthumously, the proceeds will go to the Khadija Saye IntoArt Programme, which will enable more young people to follow in her footsteps,” Evans explains.
‘in this space we breathe’ was opened by British MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice David Lammy, who is married to artist Nicola Green and knew Saye personally. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, he paid tribute to a “tender, gentle and creative soul”, who was “on the cusp of something special’ in her artistic career, when her life was tragically cut short1”. The exhibition is curated by Sigrid Kirk, who hopes it will “inspire children by having work in a public space while museums are closed” – noting that “not everyone feels museums are for them2”.
The exhibition of Saye’s work is the first in a series of three, which are collectively referred to as ‘Breath is Invisible’. Later in the summer, other outdoor locations across London will feature site-specific commissions presented by Martyn Ware, Zachary Eastwood-Bloom and Joy Gregory, each developed with the local community.