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Art project launched in honour of Grenfell artist Khadija Saye | Art and design


Khadija Saye’s art work was celebrated at the Venice Biennale alongside some of British art’s biggest names, now three years after her death in the Grenfell fire disaster, it is lining the streets of Notting Hill as a reminder of her talent and legacy.

An art project commemorating the life of Saye – the Gambian-British artist who was among the 72 people who died in the Grenfell fire disaster – has been launched in London with the aim of addressing the lack of diversity in the UK arts sector.

David Lammy, the Tottenham Labour MP, launched the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme, an educational initiative focused on developing the arts in disadvantaged communities and putting on public exhibitions of art, the first of which is nine screen prints of Saye’s work.

Lammy, who was a friend of Saye, said he remembered the “tender, beautiful and creative soul” whose work “reflects that deep sensibility that was part of her personality”. “This exhibition reminds us of the dignity and humanity with which we remember those who lost their lives,” he added.

Titled Breath is Invisible, the prints are on display in Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, about a mile from Grenfell Tower and a central location of the Notting Hill carnival, which was cancelled this year because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

David Lammy MP

David Lammy MP attends the launch of the exhibition of Khadija Saye’s artwork. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images for Eiesha Bharti Pasricha

Born in London, Saye lived with her mother in Grenfell Tower. She was educated locally, but at 16 won an Arnold Foundation scholarship to the Rugby school sixth form after taking part in schemes put on by IntoUniversity, which is running the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme.

The programme aims to address the lack of diversity in the UK arts sector by giving opportunities to young people from deprived and ethnic minority backgrounds, such as Saye who began attending IntoUniversity events as a seven-year-old.

Saye, who was 24 when she died, was the youngest exhibitor in the Diaspora Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, where her works sat alongside those of Isaac Julien and Yinka Shonibare.

Her friend and fellow artist Sanaz Movahedi told the Guardian that Saye found the experience of Venice “dazzling and overwhelming” at times but she was thrilled that one of her idols, the artist Lorna Simpson, had viewed her work.

Nicola Green – an artist who was a mentor to Saye, is married to Lammy and who founded the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme – said that going to Rugby had thrust Saye into “a completely different world”, which was challenging but had given her “tenacity and determination”.

“Khadija’s story is inspirational, it needs to be told so that other Khadijas in the world hear it – that is the important legacy of her incredible story,” she told the Guardian in 2017.

Saye took part in summer educational schemes where she developed her artistic practice, and the programme founded in her memory will develop new arts-focused activities at IntoUniversity centres around the UK.

Saye’s work is the first of three exhibitions that make up the Breath is Invisible project. Later this summer Martyn Ware, Zachary Eastwood-Bloom and Joy Gregory will present site-specific commissions developed alongside the local community.

The second exhibition will run from 11 August to 4 September, and is a 3D installation by Ware, which is inspired by the song To Be Invisible by Curtis Mayfield and the recent events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. Ware worked with young musicians from Amplify Studios on Portobello Road create a “soundscape” that captures the sound of London and features narration of Mayfield’s lyrics to the song, which was on his 1974 album Sweet Exorcist and was covered by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

That will sit alongside Eastwood-Bloom’s work, which is described as a digital 3D rendering that is “a visual representation of the effects of racism”, that will be projected on the windows of the building.

Joy Gregory’s The Invisible Life Force of Plants will be on display from 8 September to 9 October and is informed by her research into the history of botany between 17th and 19th centuries. Gregory worked with young people from The Harrow Club to collect and dry plants gathered from around west London to create prints which explore the idea of what a “native” species is and how global trade routes influenced Britain’s plants.

The nine silkscreen prints that form Breath is Invisible will be sold after the exhibition with the proceeds going to the Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme and the artist’s estate.


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