Ravelle Pillay: Idyll

24 Feb-23 Apr 2023


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. Connecting sites of enduring personal interest to the fallibility of memory, Idyll continues the artist’s reflections on how we remember—history, places and people.

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 is a South African artist living and working in Johannesburg. She holds a degree in Fine Art from the University of the Witwatersrand and is the recipient of the 2022 African Art Galleries Association’s Emerging Painting Invitational for painters from the African continent. Her work featured at Frieze London 2022, and she was in residence at Gasworks, London from October to December 2022.

As part of the commissioning process, a programme of talks and events has been devised in collaboration with Ravelle Pillay, spanning the duration of the exhibition.

Thursday, March 2, 7pm 
Sound artist and musician Nexcyia performs a new composition responding to Pillay’s exhibition. 

Saturday, March 11, 12pm
A walk through Idyll with Curator Olivia Aherne. 

Saturday, March 18, 11:30am
Mona Manjot Kaur Dhaliwal leads a poetry and print workshop for all ages. 

Saturday, March 25, 1pm
Artists Inês Neto dos Santos and Nora Silva (The Gramounce) host a culinary exploration of history, identity and food. 

Wednesday, April 5,  7pm
Artist Thomas J.Price joins Peer Sessions (artists Kate Pickering and Charlotte Warne Thomas), inviting you to share work-in-progress. 

Thursday, April 20, 7pm 
Academic and author of Ghostly Matters, Avery F. Gordon responds to Pillay’s exhibition. 

Unless stated online, all events are free to attend and open to all. To book, visit our website or talk to a member of staff.

We are committed to ensuring our events are accessible for all. Please contact [email protected] to discuss any access needs. We will endeavour to meet all requests with reasonable notice. 

Lead Supporters: A4 Arts Foundation, Goodman Gallery and Suzanne McFayden.
Headline Supporters: Marcus & Alexa Waley-Cohen. With additional support from the Chisenhale Gallery Commissions Fund.
Chisenhale Gallery’s Public Programme 2023 is supported by the Talks & Events Supporters’ Circle.
Chisenhale Gallery’s Schools’ Programme 2022-23 is made possible through the generosity of Headline Supporter Goodman Gallery. 

Chisenhale Gallery: Registered charity number 1026175

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