> Dwelling: In this space we breathe. Works by Khadija Saye at the Venice Biennale 2017

Caroline Molloy / Dwelling: In this space we breathe. Works by Khadija Saye at the Venice Biennale 2017

December 2017

Intimately hung in the main gallery space in the Diaspora pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, sit six 10 x 8-inch tintype photographic portraits by British artist, Khadija Saye. In this body of work titled, Dwelling: In this space we breathe, Saye investigates the relationship between her cultural heritage and British identity. Drawing from Gambian rituals, Saye’s portraits explore ideas of nostalgia, cultural memory and tradition. She is the subject in the portraits, on which Gambian spiritual rituals are performed. The rituals are enacted using sacred objects, sourced from spiritual leaders in Gambia. The portraits stand as a testament to the staged rituals; they are beautiful, poignant photographic objects, that invite the viewer to investigate the intersection of Saye’s cross-cultural identities.

The process of making the images is integral to Saye’s practice. They are made using an archival photographic process, wet plate collodion tintype. This is a method of making photographic images that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century.[1] It is a lengthy and ritualistic process, which is slow and unpredictable. Each image is an original and is unique. Saye acknowledges the analogy between the ritualistic Gambian spiritual practices seen in the images and the ritual practice of creating the images.

The Diaspora pavilion is not aligned to a specific artistic practice or affiliated with a particular country. The agenda is to showcase work that responds to themes of displacement, migration and identity. Saye’s work is well placed within this context. For me it is the highlight in this Biennale. It is an exciting exhibition that brings together nineteen artists with diverse artistic practices, curated by David A. Bailey and Jessica Taylor, presented by ICF (International Curators Forum), who between them complicate, de-stabilise and expand diasporic conversations. Bringing together emerging artists alongside more established artists, through the ‘Beyond the Frame’ mentorship program, the Diaspora pavilion presents a cross-generational dialogue that interrogates the critical capacity of diaspora. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote in Britain, this is a timely exhibition that promotes cultural diversity through multi-media visual practices.

 – Text by Caroline Molloy


[1] Saye’s work was created with the help of artist Almudena Romero, a specialist in historical photographic processes, who has research interests centred around photography, colonialism and migration.


The Diaspora pavilion, as part of the Venice Biennale, was supported by University of the Arts, London and Arts Council England. It ran from May 13 – November 26, 2017.

Khajida Saye and her mother tragically died in the Grenfell Tower fire, June 2017. This review is written posthumously.