Damel Carayol: Mary Mendy & Khadija Saye

In a video by JC Kamau, Damel Carayol reminisces about family members Mary Mendy and Khadija Saye, residents of Grenfell Tower.

From 7 July -7 August 2020, a W11 London art installation called "Breath is Invisible" celebrated the art of Khadija Saye.


Transcript follows:

Damel Carayol:

It's Mary that I know more. I spent a bit more time with her. Kadijia was very young, the last time I'd seen her. And even Mary I hadn't seen for a long time. But you don't need to see her for a long time - for people who don't know her - to see the kind of person that she is. And in fact it's more when her brother - a close cousin that I'm telling you about -- when he came to town, to UK, to visit, at around Carnival time, there's a few times he was here. And we'd go and see - we'd go to Grenfell tower to go and visit Mary.

And two occasions stayed in my mind in that, a good friend of mine, a raving partner really, that I'd normally go to carnival with, and a partner when we'd go clubbing and stuff. So we were together, the three of us, and we said, "Let's go and see Mary, let's go and see Grenfell." And he's there moaning and complaining because we're dragging him away from his special brew and everything, to go and visit someone in a house, where you have to sit down, and the party's not going on, so he's moaning and complaining, "How long we gonna be there?"

And when we got there, of course we got the big welcome, from Mary, oh so happy to see us! Welcome! And the first thing, "Have you eaten?" And I don't know if we'd even eaten. You're going to eat there, because that's -- in Gambia, Senegal, in my language -- we have one word for what there is two words in English and French, which is like a 'Warm Welcome.' We just have one word, which is 'teranga.' That's what you have, it's not a welcome, you have a warm welcome. That's what it means. That's what you show to people when they come to see you.

So we'd go there, and if there was food already cooked, then she'd warm it up, and you'd eat and sit and talk. If there wasn't, she'd go and cook. So, you're not leaving, you're staying. And then, you feel the welcome, the warm, sitting down, eating this delicious food. And evenwhile Fred, he'd forgotten where he was, wanted to be, and he'd been complaining about. 'Cause we having this wonderful time there.

She was just of this giving spirit that she had. She worked as a carer for part of her life. So, for me, there's not many more titles that you can have -- whether it's as a professional career, whatever you do in your work, to be called a carer. That means, you do care. You care for people. And usually people who are losing hope in life, for example, the elderly, they might be told they're at the last stages of their life. Some of them might not see anybody else all day, and then you've got someone like Mary who brightens your day, and gives you a reason, just to carry on. That's the type of person for Mary to be. That's how she was.

JC Kamau:

And now, Khadija, you said that you only saw her -- the last time you saw her she was young, but over time she's grown up -- grew up to be a world-class artist. How did it make you feel, also being an artist, seeing her artwork put in exhibitions, and come to such prominence?


Yeah, just a strong sense of pride really. With a -- artwork, or not a member of the family, a young member of the family who's reaching - fulfilling - her aims, her potential, her dreams, to get to a certain level. Where - there was the documentary that people have seen when when she went to the Venice Biennale, Diaspora. That's something to achieve in the first place, just to get there. And for it to be covered, thankfully, and it was filmed, and she was intereviewed, amongst other people, and shown, so people could see. Now that she's no longer here, that is there, as well as her work. She had reached that level.

The other thing is, as an artist, if you do artwork people will say that's what you do, they'll call you an artist. But comes a stage when you yourself have to realize, and recognize that you are an artist, and what makes you believe, and be able to say that confidently, is that your work is being done, is being exhibited, is being well received.

And on the business side of things, because there's an art business, just like in music and everything else - if people are interested enough, and like it enough to buy it - her work that she exhibited, all her work was sold. From what I hear, one person that bought her work to make sure that he had it before anyone else did - so he's seen something there, this was going to be I suspect a collector, who looks at what art, he's already there at the start, he's gone there to look.

So that was some recognition, and just a feeling of pride and happiness for her, what she was doing, recognition of the work of the work that she'd been doing to get to that stage, yeah. Very proud.