Works by artist who died in Grenfell fire to be shown at Cambridge gallery

Khadija Saye, who died with her mother in London tower blaze, was like a young Tracey Emin, according to director of Kettle’s Yard

Works by Khadija Saye, an emerging artist who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, are to be exhibited as part of the reopening of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge.

Saye was asked to be part of the show before she died, with her mother, in the flat they shared on the 20th floor of the west London tower block last June.

Andrew Nairne, the director of Kettle’s Yard, recalled seeing the 24-year-old’s work – a series of six small framed tintypes – at the Venice Biennale’s diaspora pavilion.

Nairne was struck not just by Saye’s powerful photographs, but also her accompanying text, which recalled a recent trauma she had gone through and explained how that related to the works.

“It is very rare [to] read something that sounds so completely honest and what the person is really thinking and wanting to say.”

Nairne said Saye’s work reminded him of early Tracey Emin. “I had slightly the same feeling about reading Khadija’s text, that she had sort of broken the rules for how you talk about art, she had been so up front.”

Nairne met Saye the following month, when she accepted an invitation to be part of the Kettle’s Yard reopening show.

“She was very smart, [especially] for someone who hasn’t shown much, if at all; she was extremely aware of how [her works] might look in the space and the need to encourage people to look closely.”

That meeting was on the Monday, two days before the fire. When Nairne was told on the day of the blaze that Saye lived at Grenfell Tower, and high up, he feared the worst. “I just burst into tears, actually … It was just so dreadful.”

Kettle’s Yard had intended to show four of Saye’s photographs from Venice and two new ones that she would make in the autumn. The works feature Saye undertaking Gambian rituals and remedies that she had once gently teased her mother about.

Saye was born in London and won a scholarship to Rugby school, before studying at the University for the Creative Arts .

Her best friend Charlotte Levy told the Guardian last June: “She was just the most incredible person. She went through so much stuff, but she always listened and was always there for you. She was making such powerful work, but still saying she didn’t have a clue. She was such a beautiful person, she lit up a room.”

Works by 38 artists will feature in the Kettle’s Yard show, including nine new commissions by artists such as Rana Bergum, Cornelia Parker, Jeremy Deller, and Idris Khan.

The Cambridge gallery is reopening after a two-year redevelopment by the architect Jamie Fobert, who also masterminded the extension of Tate St Ives, which opened in October.

• ‘Actions. The image of the world can be different’ is showing at Kettle’s Yard from 10 February to 6 May 2018


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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