“Breath is Invisible” works by Khadija Saye: Notting Hill Outdoor Installation addresses inequality and injustice

Breath is Invisible  which runs until Sunday 9 August is a new public art project comprising three site-specific exhibitions addressing issues of social inequality and injustice. The project started with the launch of in this space we breathe  which runs until Friday 7 August, an outdoor installation of nine large-scale prints by Khadija Saye, the Gambian-British artist who died tragically the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. The installation scales the building of 236 Westbourne Grove, in West London.

Saye’s prints explore migration of traditional Gambian spiritual practices. ‘The series was created from a personal need for spiritual grounding after experiencing trauma,’ Saye said before her death. ‘The search for what gives meaning to our lives and what we hold on to in times of despair and life-changing challenges.’

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 07: (L to R) Sigrid Kirk, Lady Tettey, David Lammy MP, Eiesha Bharti Pasricha and Nicola Green attend the unveiling of ‘Breath is Invisible’, a new public art project, launching with an installation of works by Grenfell artist Khadija Saye in Notting Hill on July 7, 2020 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett

The second exhibition in the series, to be invisible  and will run from Tuesday 11 August – Friday 4 September), inspired by current events around the Black Lives Matter movement. The final exhibition, The Invisible Life Force of Plants  runs Tuesday 8 September – Friday 9 October, featuring work by British artist Joy Gregory exploring the origins and history of plants we may think of as ‘native’. This trio of shows marks one of the most challenging time we are globally facing, .

Khadija Saye, also known as Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye, was a Gambian-British artist, activist and carer, who was killed in the Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017, aged just 24. Despite her young age Khadija achieved recognition as a hugely talented artist and 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 work was shown alongside artists such as Isaac Julien and Yinka Shonibare.

Khadija Saye, in this space we breathe, part of Breath is Invisible, 2020, Installation view, Image courtesy of the Estate of Khadija Saye, Photo: Jeff Moore

The series of self-portraits was made for the Diaspora Pavilion. Titled in this space we breath, the works explore ‘the migration of the traditional Gambian spiritual practices’. The work was part of Khadija’s exploration of her identity, heritage and mixed faith background. Khadija’s parents were both from The Gambia; her mother, who died with her in the Grenfell Tower re, was a Christian and her father, who survives her, is Muslim. Khadija described her artistic practice as a means to explore ‘the deep-rooted urge to find solace in a higher power’. Khadija’s medium for this work was wet plate collodion tintype, which is a precarious, fragile method of printing.“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. 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.”

In both her life and work Khadija was socio-politically engaged, and she dedicated herself to issues of social justice and educational inequality. The portfolio of nine silkscreen prints by the late British-Gambian artist, is offered in support of the Estate of Khadija Saye and The Khadija Saye IntoArts Programme.

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