About the work
in this space we breathe, features artist Khadija Saye in each of the nine silkscreen prints. These were editioned from an initial tintype series, Dwelling: in this space we breathe (2016-17), six of which were exhibited at the Diaspora Pavilion group exhibition at the 2017 Venice Biennale. One month after the exhibition opening, Saye was one of 72 people who tragically died in the Grenfell Tower fire in London on 14 June, alongside her mother, Mary Mendy.
Saye’s prints were part of a continuing exploration of her mixed Gambian-British heritage and Christian and Muslim beliefs. Positioning herself as the subject in each, Saye was inspired by the tradition of early European portraiture, which signalled individual piety, virtue or status. Linking personal experience to traditional spiritual belief, she observed:
'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. We exist in the marriage of physical and spiritual remembrance. It’s in these spaces in which we identify with our physical and imagined bodies. Using myself as the subject, I felt it necessary to physically explore how trauma is embodied in the black experience. Whilst exploring the notions of spirituality and rituals, the process of image making became a ritual in itself.'
For the first series of prints, produced in collaboration with artist Alumudena Romero, Saye worked in wet plate collodion tintype, a precarious medium that is vulnerable to elements beyond human control. Its volatility chimed with the act of surrendering control to a higher spiritual power embodied in her images. She wrote:
'Each tintype has its own unique story to tell, a metaphor for our individual human spiritual journey. The process of submerging the collodion covered plate into a tank of silver nitrate, ignites memories of baptisms, the idea of purity and how we cleanse in order to be spiritually sound. The application of the collodion transcends the photographic process, it is a reflection, physical manifestation of my relationship to the deep-rooted tradition of African spirituality. The laborious process involved with tintypes addresses the current disposable era where materials are rapidly produced and short lived. We forget to live through the moment, remain in the silence, and work on our internal connections.'
About the artist
Born in London, Khadija Saye, also known as Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye, was a Gambian-British artist, educator and activist. She died in the Grenfell Tower fire in London, on 14 June 2017, aged 24. Despite her young age, she had achieved growing recognition as a talented artist who had produced significant work, showing extraordinary promise for the future. Saye was the youngest exhibitor in the Diaspora Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, where her works were shown alongside those of established artists including Isaac Julien, Yinka Shonibare and Barbara Walker. At the age of seven, Saye joined the Carnival Arts Programme run by the London-based organisation, IntoUniversity, and which she attended every summer for over ten years. Through IntoUniversity, she was awarded an Arnold Foundation Scholarship for sixth form at Rugby School where she discovered her interest in photography. Saye graduated with a degree in photography from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey. Since her death, Saye’s work has been exhibited at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge in 2018; at a special outdoor display in Westbourne Grove, London, in 2020; and at the British Library as part of the exhibition, 'Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights' in 2020-21. In 2018, in memory of the artist, the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme at IntoUniversity was launched. Founded by artist Nicola Green, who was Saye’s mentor and friend, the programme supports and inspires arts-focused activities at IntoUniversity centres across the UK.
Khadija Saye (1992 - 2017)
- Portfolio Title
- in this space we breathe
- Number 12 in an edition of 50
- silkscreen print on paper
- height: 61.3 cm; width: 50.2 cm
- Purchased from Victoria Miro in support of the Estate of Khadija Saye and the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme, with funds raised from print sales from the Robson Orr TenTen Award, a GAC/Outset Annual Commission, 2020
- Victoria Miro, offered in support of the Estate of Khadija Saye and the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme; from whom purchased by UK Government Art Collection, 17 March 2020
- GAC number