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Ravelle Pillay: Idyll | Chisenhale Gallery

February 24–April 23, 2023 | London, United Kingdom


Idyll – a peaceful or picturesque scene, typically idealised – is the title of Johannesburg-based artist Ravelle Pillay’s first UK solo exhibition.Eight new oil paintings on canvas, ranging from near life-size to smaller portals, are hung alongside a series of Indian ink drawings on translucent acetate.


Ravelle Pillay, 'Untitled' (2023). Installation view, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2023. Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.


Working primarily in painting, Pillay’s practice evolves from a personal process of archiving, drawing equally from family photographs and found imagery to map life-making in the wake of mass migration. As a descendent of Indian indentured workers – a system of contracted servitude, by which Indians were transported to European colonies for labour, following the abolition of slavery in the 19th century – Pillay’s paintings are haunted by a personal relationship to legacies of colonialism and migration.


Attuned to the ways nature can serve as both a witness to, and host of violence and trauma, Pillay’s landscapes are punctuated by plantlife that hold complex histories – banana and palm trees recur throughout. Thick with lush vegetation and flooded by swampy waters, each panorama threatens to engulf the ghostly figures that haunt it. Where viscous bodies of water pool deep and canopies cascade and conceal, figures fade away – spectral but ever-present.


Throughout the exhibition, motifs repeat to create an uncanny familiarity; bodies of water are doubled and forms are tirelessly reworked. By concentrating and layering paint, whilst simultaneously diluting and rubbing out, Pillay exercises her own agency in reshaping familial and national narratives. Merging the archival and imaginary, this new body of work considers the material possibilities of the medium, offering painting as a mediation between past and present, memory and experience.


Ravelle Pillay, 'Untitled' (2023). Installation view, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2023. Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

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Ravelle Pillay: Idyll | Chisenhale Gallery

February 23, 2023

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