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Khadija Saye speaking at the opening of the Diaspora Pavilion at the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale.

Khadija Saye (1992–2017)

Khadija Saye, a twenty-four-year-old emerging artist whose work is currently on view in the Diaspora pavilion at the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale, has officially been confirmed as one of the thirty victims who died in the horrific blaze that raged in the twenty-four-story Grenfell Tower in London on Wednesday.

Saye was the second victim of the fire to be named, the first was twenty-three-year-old Syrian refugee and civil engineering student Mohammed Al Haj Ali. The young artist, who lived with her mother Mary Mendy on the twentieth floor, wrote a message on Facebook around 3 AM that said she was trapped and could not escape her apartment because the smoke was so thick. She sent messages to her friend and mentor, artist Nicola Green, saying, “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.” Saye’s mother has not yet been accounted for.

Green’s husband, Tottenham MP David Lammy, said that Saye was a “dear friend.” He wrote on Twitter: “May you rest in peace Khadija Saye. God bless your beautiful soul. My heart breaks today. I mourn the tragic loss of a young woman.”

While the cause of the fire in the residential highrise, which was built in 1974, remains unknown, Lammy has labeled the tragedy “corporate manslaughter.” In an interview with The Independent he said, “We built buildings in the 70s, those 70s buildings, many of them should be demolished, they haven’t got any fire escapes, they’ve got no sprinklers—it’s totally unacceptable in Britain that this is allowed to happen and people lose their lives in this way, and people should be held to account.”

Prime Minister Teresa May has promised a full public inquiry into the disaster and the police have launched a criminal investigation. Residents had repeatedly raised concerns about fire safety with the building’s management over the past couple of years, but they mostly went unanswered. The Grenfell Action Group even wrote a letter to the London Fire Brigade in 2014 outlining the issues with the building, which it posted on the group’s blog. A $10 million refurbishment of the skyscraper was completed in 2016, but a sprinkler system had still not been installed.

Saye was born and raised in London and graduated from the University for the Creative Arts in southern England in 2013. The artist was a photographer whose work explored themes of home, ritual, and spirituality. According to Saye’s website, her latest work “Dwelling: in this space we breathe,” 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, will be on view at the Venice Biennale until November.

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