Graduating from New Dehli’s lead Fashion Design College, The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Lakshmi Mohanbabu is a Singaporean fashion design, illustration and design history lecturer, who was raised in Kabul Afghanistan throughout the late 70’s and 80’s.
Publishing a plethora of work with over 300 paintings across various mediums such as Pen and Ink, Pencil Color, Charcoal, Acrylic and Watercolors – Lakshmi is proficient in art, architecture, jewelry and design, which has allowed her to seamlessly incorporate cross-cultural elements into every piece of work.
You were born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and then you studied and trained as an architect in India. When did you arrive in Singapore and under which circumstances?
I was born India. My father worked for the UN in Afghanistan where I grew up. I got my degree in architecture in India. I was an assistant professor at NIFT, Delhi before I came to Singapore in 2001 to join my husband.
You started with portraits and gradually you have evolved into abstract & geometric art. What has inspired such evolution?
I am an Architect and a Fashion designer by training and have always been drawn to both figurative and geometric forms in equal measure. I alternate between the two. At any given time, I am working on one piece that is geometric and another that is completely figurative. I started work on the Interactions series of paintings in 1992. Over the years I have added new layers of meaning to it. At present I have a total of 20 paintings in the series and it continues to be a work in progress.
The expressions series which are figurative have the same basic underlying concept as that of the Interactions series, the duality in nature be it in form or expression.
I worked on both these series simultaneously. I enjoyed the challenge of expressing the same idea in very different forms.
You are always looking for new techniques in your art, new textures and support. Tell us more about your creative process?
I look for ideas and meanings in different areas and do extensive research before I start my work, which then leads to the manner in which I want to handle the subject. I allow the idea and direction to dictate the medium and texture of the paintings. I work on numerous concepts at the same time knowing that some will be realised sooner, and others will remain to be explored more at a later date.
For example, in the interactions series of paintings I started with the idea of creating a single shape that would divide a space into two halves, the positive shape that defines the negative non-existent space reflecting the idea of duality and its complimentary and interdependent nature. I looked for symbols used by people of various cultures and their meanings such as the Ying and Yang, the Mandala, the Dromenon and the Gammadion cross. I added more layers of meaning as I worked on the framework of the entire series. I found working with acrylic on canvas was ideal for creating very precise gradations in colour to convey depth and perspective in this series.
I used the same Creative process handling the expression series where the concept of duality was interpreted by creating pairs of expressions where one was the compliment of the other, such as joy and sorrow, love and hate etc. I used Chinese opera and Japanese kabuki as the starting point for colour, form and expressions. This led me to limiting myself to the use of just two colours, red and black. These were simplified portraits with minimal lines with the focus on the eyes and mouth. All the forms in each painting had a link to the kind of expression. This dictated my use of paper and acrylic paints.
The “Interaction” series is a major milestone for you. What is the concept behind this series? What does the Cube represent within your universe as an artist?
There is an interrelationship and interconnectedness between all fields be it science, philosophy and art with one influencing the thoughts and direction of the other. They do not exist in isolation. Infinity and interdependence and their interrelationship and interaction are the building blocks of our existence, concepts that feature in all my work. To understand our surroundings and the Universe we have created numerous building blocks and methods of analysis; numbers, basic shapes such as the dot, triangle, square and circle as vehicles to explore art, science, religion and life.
We have created our own symbols to represent our perceptions, thoughts and interpretations. The Interactions series was based on Infinity in terms of numbers, time, space and life cycles and the interdependence of opposites to create an integrated world view transcending all religions, cultures and continents. In the context of the world we live in today where travel, discovery, interaction, communication and knowledge have reached new heights, in a world striving towards infinite possibilities while going through the cycles of life, the symbols created in the Interactions paintings are an interpretation of these concepts.
These ideas may be viewed in symbols across the world in the form of mandalas, a cosmic diagram that best embodies our relationship to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds. It appears in all aspects of life from the Atom, our Galaxy, the Universe, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the cycles of life to our circles of interactions with friends, family and communities.
Cross-cultural patterns of the mandala are seen across the globe from the wheel to the ground plan of cities as in Hindu temples, Buddhist Stupas, Muslim mosques, Christian cathedrals, Native American teepees, and across religious beliefs.
‘Mandala’ comes from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, meaning “Encircled essence”, enclosing a space penetrating a sacred core symbolizing the universe, having gates to the four cardinal points, a pattern of existence with us being a part of its intricate design, seen as cosmic intelligence and integration, it represents unity, harmony and cosmic order.
The Taoist Ying and Yang mandala represents the duality of opposition and interdependence with the use of a wave form and complimentary black and white sides.
The Hindu mandala is a microcosm and a macrocosm, a square with four gates within which are intersecting triangles pointing up and down representing the duality of male and female, surrounded by lotus petals alluding to the creation of something new that does not yet exist, with Mount Meru as the axis mundi in the center.
The Buddhist mandala used for meditation with its rich intricate figures and outer circle of fire suggests the impermanence with which the world is suffused.
The Aztec medicine wheel mandala in the Americas, was of religious significance and used as a circular calendar timekeeping device.
The Islamic mandala is dominated by geometric shapes where the entire building of the mosque with its interior dome becomes a mandala. The roof represents the arch of the heavens and turns the worshipper’s attention upwards.
The Christian mandala appears in the forms of the Dromenon, Celtic cross, Halo and Rose windows.
As a representation of racial harmony and interaction, these series of paintings have elements of all these ideals such as the singularity of the self, the duality of complementary sides, the trinity of creation, preservation and destruction to the plurality in our beliefs.
The arrow a masculine principle is a solar symbol depicting the sun’s rays and direction, the movement of time. They may be seen as channels interconnecting triangles.
The flower a feminine principle; The lotus or the rose is a symbol of creation, new life and beginnings.
I created the cube of Interaction as a unifying symbol based on my interpretation in the Interactions series of paintings. The orange cube represents living fire, energy and progress and the arrows signify the ascent to the celestial. It is based on our interconnected interdependent and interrelated existence, the building blocks of our lives which integrates a number of ideas within it such as:
Infinity represented by a single continuous line starting and ending at the same point suggesting the idea of continuing and endless life cycles.
Plurality of our thoughts and belief systems is represented by the radial geometry of the cube. The circle a polygon with infinite sides represents the sun, the moon and the earth, the interaction of the inner self with that beyond the reaches of our consciousness depicted with the pattern of 12 arrows penetrating and moving inward, the self, and 12 arrows radiating outward reflecting the form of petals in a flower blossom, the creation.
Quaternity seen in the square which is the basic foundation for the cube and represents the four directions.
Trinity ascribed to the triangle the smallest polygon, representative of the three phases of the moon: waxing, waning and full. Trinity is depicted with arrows that are essentially triangles interconnected with channels implying direction and interaction.
Duality depicted by the negative and positive spaces of the cube which is made of just two interconnected spaces, the positive crest and the negative trough, a translation of the complimentary interdependence of the ying and yang, a wave form. The wave, the medium of travel for light, sound and energy is needed for all forms of interaction and communication. The interdependence of the complementary nature of the crest and trough best signifies this relationship of the interdependence of opposites. The existence of the crest is dependent on the trough and vice versa.
Singularity depicted by the cross hairs of the central axis implying unity, the point of origin and creation.
You have been selected by the European Space Agency amongst many international artists. What are they aiming for and why will 2022 be a special year for you?
The Moon Gallery is aiming for an international collaborative artwork and a gallery of ideas worth sending to the Moon.
To be chosen as a part of this select group of artists and to have my work permanently on the moon makes 2022 a year when I can look up at the moon from anywhere on earth and think that a work of art that I created now resides up there in the sky.
When I started the interaction series of paintings, I wanted it to be interactive in every way. It was first exhibited as a series of paintings at the largest private gallery in Singapore, the museum of art and design, then as a mosaic animation on the largest screen in the world, the Suntec City screen to a tiny little sculpture of just a cm cubed with a permanent residence on the moon. I want it to be something that doesn’t just have the function of creating an interesting focus that draws your attention in a space such as paintings, lenticulars or sculpture but as something you can also touch, feel and wear (clothing),something you could walk in (shoes), something you could walk on (floor coverings), something you could live in (furniture, architecture), something you could accessorize with(jewellery) something you could eat out of (plates), something to place your glasses on (coasters) and many more to be added to the list by 2022 that would make it a truly interactive concept.
You are an astute observer of the earth & universe. What have been your thoughts on the related Covid-19 lockdown in Singapore and around the world?
As someone who is constantly looking for new and existing meaning in everything around me, I have come to the conclusion that the more I learn the less I know. Random ideas display recognisable patterns and yet they remain random. These are the paradoxes we constantly come across. Every idea scientific or philosophical derives new meaning with changing times, are challenged time and again and redefined. The Covid-19 lockdown in Singapore and across the world are a perfect example of this paradox. As we went through it we had strong opinions on the rights and the wrongs, the manner in which the situation should have or could have been handled, if it had been handled earlier rather than later, hoping that a group of doctors or scientists or governments knew precisely the measures to be followed that were in the best interests of the masses. Singapore was praised initially for its efficiency but faced a backlash when it came to the increasing number of cases as time progressed. I have come to realise that we can never have the perfect solution but can always strive to handle a situation better as it presents itself, learning from and refining and adapting our methods of coping with it and being better prepared for the future.
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?
For me life has been my one mentor that has taken me through a completely unplanned route. Every place I have been, every experience I have had observing and discovering the methods of Artists, be it musicians, dancers, fine artists, writers etc. through history to every interaction with friends and family has impacted my choices and outcomes. The path was random, not chosen. I planned to work as an architect, but life took a completely unexpected turn that had me illustrating books in the field of disability for the Voluntary health association of India and the WHO, onto another becoming a fashion designer, then a Jewellery designer and an artist. Every one of these twists in my life have influenced my Creative process and approach to design and art.
Which gallery represents you in Singapore ? Are you planning a solo exhibition soon?
At present my paintings are at:
ART NOW Raffles Arcade
328 North Bridge Road
Unit 02-28 to 32
11am to 8pm.daily
108 Tanjong Pagar Road, #02-01, Singapore 088526
Mobile: (65) 9675 7721
Telephone: (65) 6220 0420
Where can we see some of you work online, are these for sale?
My paintings are for sale and can be viewed at
and online galleries such as,
by appointment only
Blair: +65 9068 2026
Elena: +65 8218 1357