The work of the late Khadija Saye is on show at Stroud Valley Artspace, John Street, Stroud, running until April 8th.
Khadija Saye was a British-Gambian artist, who tragically died in the Grenfell Tower fire on 14th June 2017, aged just 24. Despite her young age, she achieved recognition as a hugely talented artist and had already produced significant work, showing extraordinary promise for the future. Saye was honoured to be the youngest exhibitor in the Diaspora Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, where her works were shown alongside those of established artists such as Isaac Julien and Yinka Shonibare, who were among a number of mentors to the younger artists involved in the Diaspora Pavilion project.
For the Diaspora Pavilion, during 2016–2017 Saye developed a series of nine tintypes. Titled Dwelling: in this space we breathe these works explore the ‘migration of traditional Gambian spiritual practices’. This series was part of an interrogation of Saye’s heritage and mixed faith background visible in her previous photographic work. Saye’s parents were both from The Gambia; her mother, who died with her in the Grenfell Tower fire, was a Christian and her father, who survives her, is Muslim. Saye described her practice as a means to explore ‘the deep-rooted urge to find solace in a higher power’.
Saye’s medium for this work was wet plate collodion tintype, which is a precarious, fragile method of printing. She said: ‘Taking inspiration from the development of portraiture in the fifteenth century, I wanted to investigate how a portrait could function as a way of announcing one’s piety, virtue, soul, and prosperity’. By working for the first time with volatile tintypes, a medium so easily affected by elements outside of the control of the artist, the theme of surrendering control to a higher power was somehow exemplified within the materiality of the work.
Saye was only able to exhibit six of these works in the Diaspora Pavilion and she agonised over which to choose. In 2017, in collaboration with the Studio of Nicola Green and Jealous she went on to create a silkscreen print of one of the exhibited works, titled Sothiou, using a high-resolution raw scan. Raw scans of the eight additional tintypes have been recovered and used to make 50 portfolio sets of nine silkscreen prints, each including the original signed, dated and numbered silkscreen print of Sothiou. One of the 50 portfolio sets of nine images was sold at Christie’s, London, in 2018 to benefit the Khadija Saye Into Arts Programme.
Pictures by Simon Pizzey