Updated: Jul 23, 2019
Early 2017, Khadija saye created a series of nine tintype photographs titled ‘Dwelling: in this Space We Breathe’. Each were self-portraits in which Khadija performed a different, time-honoured, Gambian spiritual ritual.
‘the series was intensely personal for Khadija,’ says her former mentor, the artist Nicola Green. ‘She drew on subject matter she cared deeply about… exploring the emotions, feelings and consequences of her journey and heritage.’ (extracted from Christie's)
Though she was born and brought up in Grenfell Tower, West London. Khadija’s parents were from the Gambia — and in dwelling she clearly explores their Muslim and Christian heritage and holding various objects that are considered sacred in the Gambia, such as a cow horn and incense burner. As an artist she referred to the series as charting ‘the deep-rooted urge to find solace in a higher power
Khadija Saye (1992-2017), in this space we breathe, executed in 2017, this work is number one from an edition of fifty. Each sheet: 24⅛ x 19 ¾ in (61.3 x 50.2 cm). Estimate: £7,000-10,000. Offered in post war and contemporary art day auction on 5 october 2018 at Christie’s in London
Inspired by Khadija’s photography, her perseverance and determination to create a legacy at 24 years of age through her heritage and culture, we wanted to know more
Khadija was a local artist; and for some of us, a lifetime neighbour but we wanted to understand the real Khadija, not the media portrayed version of the artist after Grenfell Tower fire… we spoke to her aunt Clarrie Mendy.
Clarrie sat with us at the woman of the year awards in Tabernacle, presented her story as part of a human library which revealed her soul, her heritage and their journey from the gambia to london.
Khadija was given her first camera by her father at the age of nine, and photography was a childhood passion she later turned into a career. She went on to do a BA in photography at the University of the Creative Arts, in Farnham, producing work that increasingly explored her personal, cultural identity.
Khadija’s graduation project, in 2013, was a series called crowned, in which she captured an array of black women’s hairstyles. Her mother and friends were the sitters, all shot in a makeshift studio in her flat on Grenfell Towers 20th floor.
Given how relatively few black women feature in 19th-century portraiture, the dwelling... Works have an unnerving sense of the incongruous about them — an incongruity, that is, between medium and subject. In turn, this provokes thoughts of historic, racial inequality. Also, unlike photographic practice today — when most of us need do little more than press a button on our phones — tintypes are open to the effect of outside elements, most obviously the quality and constancy of light.
Such a strong representation of a Muslim female artist in western society we felt the connection, as 1st and 2nd generation immigrants we all understand the pressures of having to fit into the UK life, the western culture whilst retaining our string identity through culture, traditions and customs… Khadija managed to merge this with her passion for photography and take the audience on a journey through her heritage.
The Gambia; a small West African country, bounded by Senegal, with a narrow Atlantic coastline. It's known for its diverse ecosystems around the Central Gambia River.
We didn’t know much if anything about gambian culture? What's the music like? and fashion? Who’s repping the Gambia in the fashion world - every tribe has its textile print so obviously not everything is Kente and not everywhere plays Afro Beats…
Clarrie where do we start to immerse ourselves in Gambian culture in London… off to Dalston it is then. Then one of our artists popped up with Jekkah
Jekkah is a streetwear brand inspired by Africa which is sold in London, its a collection of clothes made from wax print fabrics sourced from the Gambia.
The brand's name means beautiful or to be well-dressed in Wolof, one of the Gambia's languages.
First stop, Camden!
And we were not disappointed… crowded as usual we were able to spot the vibrant signature Jekkah textiles from a far, pieces fusing western pattern cuts with African prints sent us into orgasmic states… we’re talking about trench coats with tribal lining and tracksuits clearly on trend with normal street wear like staple Adidas or Trapstar collections but sporting the print inside the hood or reflecting on the accents of the greens and yellows featured in many of the native patterns. This is the Gambia 21st century, this is the Gambia influencing audiences in the west…. We need to go further back we need to start at the root.
So in time to catch the trade and hopefully find some inspirational fabric and photography we jumped on the overground and headed to Dalston; Ridley Road Market, walked along the stalls on the hot autumn saturday and of course the market is bustling with tourists but more so families, aunties plenty of aunties from allover, speaking all languages…. Loud, mad loud. We love it… one of our lot is from the congo and picks up a familiar sound, “she’s from the congo” love this, its like little Africa, Ghana and Nigerian trade dominates by far but then we come across little shops that are run by a Senegalese family or a stall and a place we can absorb the native sounds and smells. So where can we find more from the Gambia, not easy… apparently everyone keeps directing us to a store that’s renowned for bringing produce from the Gambia, textiles specifically mandingo prints and artworks from Wolof tribes…. She was closed- apparently travelling. Which was peak, but the whole experience brought back memories, and just reminded us so much of our childhoods each person resonated with the strong dry fish scent that stank out the 236 route… or that sugar cane peel that you constantly slip on like back home… machete, eat, spit and go… all over the streets…
The best was the collective of African traditions mixed together, the record store with its Western Union equivalent outback has the most intergenerational footfall ever, grannies with their 17 year old grandson sending the weekly allowance back home or ruben who’s newly arrived from portugal buying minutes to speak to his family in Angola, same time he's looking at the gold on sale… “pure 24kt gold my friend” shouts uncle from way behind the shelves… nah today was pure memories. Battery done and out of film we defo need to come back… inspired a whole new project today. RIP Khadija Saye.