Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Let's celebrate the work of Khadija Saye

Very often when a tragedy happens, it's one person who makes it very real.

For me, in the case of the tragic and incomprehensible fire at Grenfell Tower that person is the photographer Khadija Saye - who is missing. [Update - see postscript at end]

Khadija Saye and her camera
(Photo credit: Lauren Frame | Facebook)
40 years ago, when I first came to London, I lived on the 15th floor of a "hard to let" GLC tower block in the East End. It was badly in need of updating and those entitled to a council tenancy were refusing to live there.

Living there had its benefits - I was able to save the deposit for the flat that I later bought - and I made some good friends at the time, some of whom were recent graduates from the Royal College of Art who were starting out on their careers - who lived on the top floor.

However the reason the tower block was "hard to let" was because things didn't work. The lifts broke down on a regular basis and the heating and hot water facilities were poor - until they broke down altogether. So hot baths took forever to prepare and I did an awful lot of walking up and down stairs.

I also used to be really, really worried about fire - because I knew that the ladders of the firemen wouldn't reach the fifteenth floor where I used to live.  I knew the notion was that if there was a fire in the block you should stay in your own flat because - being concrete - it was compartmentalised from the rest of the block and the front door provided fire safety of at least an hour.

However, the fire at Grenfell House has had a profound effect on me - partly because o
  • my fears from the past 
  • I know how difficult it would be for anybody to climb down from the 20th floor - where Khadija lived with her mother in such circumstances
  • I've filmed her work and shown it on this blog.
Khadija Saye is a photographer and an emerging artist of Gambian heritage. She and her mother had a home on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower.

In May, Khadija posted on Facebook and Twitter about exhibiting at the 57th Venice Biennale.

Her photographs of, ironically entitled Dwelling: in this space we breathe are in the Diaspora Pavilion.
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.
She's listed in the exhibition catalogue at #15 right next to Yinka Shonibare at #16 whose work I saw featured in the courtyard at this year's Summer Exhibition on Monday.

You can read below how absolutely thrilled she was about exhibiting at the Biennale. Note who she is standing next to...

Back in November 2014, she was exhibiting her series Crowned at the Mall Galleries in the ING Discerning Eye exhibition - having been invited by one of the artist curators Nicola Green

In fact you can see her work in my video of the exhibition. Her series "Crowned" which I remember very well comes into shot at 34 seconds

Today the tweets are about her - for a completely different reason.

She and her mother had a home on the 20th floor of Grenfell House. At the time of writing she was last heard of when messaging at 4am on Facebook.
'Please pray for me. There's a fire in my council block. I can't leave the flat. Please pray for me and my mum.'
Her mentor, Nicolea Green , the wife of David Lammy MP, posted this on Twitter.

I am so very, very angry today.

Last night I was at a PV and when I got home I fell asleep in my chair before I made it to my bed. When I woke up I checked the news and was confronted with pictures of the fire as it accelerated across and up the building (check George Clarke's Instagram for how it progressed)

I was rooted to my chair. It was all my worst nightmares and worse.
  • 40 years it took very considerable effort and the formation of a Residents Association to get the GLC to pay attention to what action they needed to take regarding looking after the health and safety of residents. (Our block subsequently made it on to Dan Cruickshank's television series "At Home with the British" - The Flat - however they missed out the grind involved in getting the work done properly!!!)
  • A few years back I helped neighbours when there was a major refurbishment of their ex-Council estate. Another Residents Association was set up and we ran a campaign which went on for a few years. I KNOW exactly how much contractors duck and dive and ignore the conditions of planning permission and the law and regulations relating to building and health and safety in order to save time and money - or because they are just plain incompetent. It took online outing via blogging, videos, documentation and a call I made to the London HQ of the Health and Safety Executive to start bringing them into line and to get the Council to read them the "riot act". 
I am just so absolutely utterly appalled to find that the same neglect for the health and safety of residents has quite obviously occurred at Grenfell House.

That fire has extinguished so many homes and, we all fear, so many lives as well.

It's about time councils started listening to residents of tower blocks and paying more attention to what is required to keep people safe!

In the meantime let's celebrate the work of Khadija Saye. This is her Facebook account and this is her Twitter account for her photography. Why not 'follow' the latter - by way of support?

Apparently the latest is that those living on the top three residential floors - which includes the 20th floor - are unlikely to be among the survivors. However we can always hope she is found.....

UPDATE 16 June 2017

a tribute from David Lammy‏ MP @DavidLammy
May you rest in peace Khadija Saye. God bless your beautiful soul. My heart breaks today. I mourn the tragic loss of a wonderful young woman
Plus articles in


  1. Katherine

    I visit your post as a fellow artist and have enjoyed many of them, but, certainly have not been moved more by this one.
    Lets hope that Khadija was rescued by the London Fire Brigade.
    Many haven't been. Questions will need to be answered.

    Alan E.

  2. She is in my thoughts - her work is so beautiful and I wish that I had found it before now. Absolutely devastating. So many lives lost to a completely preventable fire.


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