The artist Khadija Saye, whose work is currently included in the Venice Biennale’s Diaspora Pavilion, is among the many people missing following the deadly fire that broke out early this morning in a west London apartment building. Thirty people have been confirmed dead and 78 have been taken to hospital, but many more are missing in the blaze’s aftermath. According to the Telegraph, the building had between 400 and 600 residents.
According to the Independent, Saye lived on the 20th floor of the 24-story Grenfell Tower with her mother, Mary Mendy, who is also missing. Saye’s friend and mentor Nicola Green told the Standard that she received a Facebook message from Saye at around 3am.
“She was saying she just can’t get out and ‘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,'” Green said. “We’re told some people have been rescued up to the 19th and 20th floor. She was on the 20th floor. Nobody has any information at this point.”
The Labour MP for Tottenhem, David Lammy (who is Green’s husband), sent out a tweet pleading for information about Saye’s whereabouts, describing her as a “dear friend, a beautiful soul and an emerging artist.”
At 5:15pm London time, a spokesperson for Lammy confirmed to Hyperallergic that still nobody has heard from Saye or her mother, or learned anything about where they may be. We will update this post as more information becomes available. Anyone with information about Saye and/or Mendy’s whereabouts is encouraged to contact the London Fire Brigade’s Casualty Bureau.
Though the cause of the fire, which began shortly before 1am, remains unknown, fears that a catastrophic blaze could occur at Grenfell Tower date back at least four years, the Telegraph reported. At that time, a community action group sought to bring the risk to the attention of municipal authorities.
“A number of residents of Grenfell Tower are very concerned at the fact that the new improvement works to Grenfell Tower have turned our building into a fire trap,” the Grenfell Action Group wrote in an August 2014 email to the London Fire Brigade, which the group subsequently posted on its blog. “There is only one entry and exit to the tower block itself and, in the event of a fire, the LFB could only gain access to the entrance to the building by climbing four flights of narrow stairs.”
The group reiterated its concerns in subsequent posts in 2015 and 2016, but complained that the problem was being systematically ignored. The tower, which was built in 1974, underwent extensive renovations last year. The managing director of the company that carried out those renovations, Harley Facades Limited, told the BBC he was not aware of any link between the fire and exterior cladding it added to the building during the refurbishing.
According to Business Insider, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell, who at the time was housing minister, failed to act on a 2013 report that found tower blocks such as Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to deadly fires. The report was conducted following a 2009 blaze at another apartment tower, Lakanal House, in which six people died.
The 24-year-old artist was born and raised in London. She graduated from the University for the Creative Arts in southern England in 2013. Her work, which is rooted in photography, is shaped by her multicultural and multi-faith background. Her recent series have focused on subjects including traditional spiritual practices in Gambia, hairstyles as manifestations of personal identity and culture, the function of mosques as community centers, and drag performance. Last month she had traveled to Venice to attend the opening celebrations for the Diaspora Pavilion.
Update, 6/15: Several outlets — including Sky News, the Telegraph, and the Independent — are reporting that Khadija Saye and her mother are confirmed to have died in the Grenfell Tower fire. Those outlets seem to have mostly relied on social media posts for their information. The Metropolitan Police says it is close to confirming the identities of six of the 17 currently known fatalities, but has declined to make any of their identities public until they are completely certain.
Update, 6/16: The BBC has confirmed that Saye is one of the three victims to have been identified thus far.