It has been three years since the devastating Grenfell Tower Fire, in West London, that claimed 72 lives on 14 June 2017. Remembered among those losses is photographer Khadija Saye.
Born in London in 1992, Khadija Saye received a B.A. in photography from the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham in 2013. Her Senior Lecturer in Photography at UCA, Natasha Caruana, said that “she began documenting life in Grenfell Tower as a student, capturing her tower block home on camera and pushing a deeper exploration of the themes of identity and belonging.” Her graduation work was a series entitled Crowned focusing on Afro-Caribbean hairstyles.
Khadija Saye’s mixed faith and multicultural background informed her exploration of identity, history, culture and spirituality. An activist and educator, Saye was involved with Jawaab, a charity empowering young Muslim to become a force for justice, fairness, and respect in their communities. Nadia Hasan remembered that: “Her time with Jawaab was spent working on a short film about educational inequality. She envisaged a future where a child’s background would not hold them back – would not be the primary predictor of their outcomes in life. She later helped put this belief into practice by delivering photography training to young Muslim students.”
After UCA, Khadija Saye was mentored by British artist Nicola Green who co-founded the Diaspora Pavilion in 2016. At 24, Saye was the youngest participant in the pavilion inaugurated at the 57th Venice Biennale in May 2017. The work she presented, Dwelling: in this space we breathe, is a series of wet plate collodion tintypes that explores the migration of traditional Gambian spiritual practices and the deep rooted urge to find solace within a higher power. The exhibition brochure explains that “the series was created out of the artist’s personal need for spiritual grounding after experiencing trauma. This work is based on the search for what gives meaning to our lives and what we hold onto in times of despair and life changing challenges. […] Using herself as the subject, Saye felt it was necessary to physically explore how trauma is embodied in the black experience.”
The Grenfell Tower Fire was caused by a fridge on the building’s fourth floor, and the blaze rapidly spread upward because of the flammability of the cladding that had recently been fitted on the tower. Khadija Saye, and her mother Mary Mendy, lived on the 20th floor.
Today, justice and accountability are still being sought by the survivors, the bereaved families, and the wider community.
Cover Image: Khadija Saye, Self portrait. Source: @metroimaging/Instagram.