After years in the healthcare, construction and hospitality sectors, local artist Devika Pillay has broken free and is following her dream, writes Shirley Le Guern.
Radisson Blu, uMhlanga’s newest hotel, is keeping up the tradition of supporting local art – this time, portrait and abstract painter, Devika Pillay.
It began with a visit by Durban businessman and property developer, Vivian Reddy, to her pop-up gallery at the Pearls in October last year. Then when the gallery closed over the festive season, she moved some of her distinctive artworks across the road where they are displayed in one of the hotel foyers and at the entrance to the upstairs restaurant.
For the most part, Devika’s career has been in the corporate world. A qualified nurse and interior designer, she has worked in the healthcare, construction and hospitality sectors, project managing extensions and running facilities in both Durban and Cape Town.
But it was the long hours as CEO of Eurocape Holdings in Cape Town – together with the heartbreak of having to retrench staff during the Covid lockdown – that led her to re-evaluate her life and return to her hometown of Durban to pursue a career as a professional artist.
Her talent and love for art was evident from the age of five. Unable to pursue art as a career, she instead opted for nursing. “But art has always been a constant throughout, an absolute passion,” she explains.
Her childhood on the KZN North Coast was a humble one. “My dad was a waiter and he eventually owned his own restaurant. My mom was a dressmaker and designed all our clothes. So, we wore haute couture and ate like kings and queens, but grew up having very little and making something out of it,” she smiles.
She was also close to her grandfather, who headed up the family construction business. He taught Devika to mix cement and lay bricks at a very young age.
She went on to do everything from painting murals in hospitals to working on building sites.
But, she admits that, while in Cape Town, she was just too stressed to paint. A few months after her return to Durban, she set up a studio at Community ZA in Umgeni Road and held her first exhibition, entitled Catharsis On Canvas, in May 2021.
This, she says, was about conquering fear and reclaiming power. “Part of that exhibition was about breaking free. So, in one painting, you have the birds that break free. The other theme added as a sub-title was Unleashing Your Potential. As women, we have to do that,” she says.
Devika went on to open her online Define Art Gallery and then moved to uMhlanga and a pop-up gallery in July 2021. With her trademark grit and determination, she fitted out the large empty space at the Pearls shopping mall herself, making the partitioning, easels and doing all the sign writing.
Now, both online and at the Radisson Blu, one can see her diverse talents in everything from water colours to oils and acrylics. Her work can be divided into two – her deeply evocative portraits and her vibrant abstract pieces – although, occasionally, they merge.
Devika believes that art is unique to each person and comes from within, reflecting their life’s journeys.
Her strongly narrative pieces sell mostly to the international market, especially when it comes to works depicting the likes of Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi.
“My earlier works have a political undertone because I lived through apartheid and have to be true to myself as an artist and where I come from,” she explains.
She says her nursing career introduced her to many women who had endured abuse or rape and she often addresses issues like women’s empowerment, mother and child nurturing and poverty in her art.
However, as much as she wishes to probe important subjects, she admits that, to survive as an artist, one has to produce commercial pieces too. These are largely abstract and favoured by local interior designers.
“In hotels, people want something to look at. They want to see new art. It adds to and uplifts the space. I visited the hotel to see its aesthetic and realised that my more modern contemporary pieces were a good fit,” she explains.
Although trying to establish herself as an artist post-Covid has been difficult, Devika remains confident that her future will continue to align with her deep passion for art and is looking to set up an arts cafe in the near future.
FOR MORE INFO:
Contact Devika Pillay on 082 653 3396.