Pillay’s paintings have a washy tranquillity beneath which violence lurks, as she explores the legacies of colonialism and the contradictory nature of historical memory
They pose in the ranked format of group photographs, rendered in an overexposed monochrome that glimmers with the passing of time. On first glance, we know that The Instruction (A gathering of friends) (2022) is a painting about history, the essence of which is carried in its reference to the documentary medium of photography, while its washed-out quality is also suggestive of memory. The figures oscillate between distance and proximity. Some are unnaturally small or large, isolated as well as unified with the others. Around the group, in thinly applied orange, green and yellow oil, is a jungle setting, which could almost be a backdrop in a photographer’s studio, except it envelops the figures, acting more as a mental cloud – up in the air, invisible, imagined. As a whole, the picture has a collage-like quality that artfully contradicts itself, as the components are both separate and blurring into each other. It does not strike as an obedient copy of a single image, though there is a sense of something being reclaimed – as if the figures were being remembered photographically, with recall mimicking archival record in paint.