Meet Lakshmi Mohanbabu, the First Singaporean Artist with a Sculpture on the Moon in 2022
Growing up in Afghanistan, where her father worked for the United Nations (UN) and her family lived during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, Singaporean artist Lakshmi Mohanbabu was exposed to diverse cultures. The small international UN community in the war-torn country was close-knit with people from around the world.
“It had a huge impact on me because such an experience made you a little bit more open to difference,” she explains. So it is no wonder that cross-cultural elements and philosophies feature prominently in her artistic practice. “I like to mix different elements, where they don’t look like they belong to one particular place but are a blend of different cultures and ideas.”
Take for example her Colours of Unity series of portraits, which focuses on the individual for who they are without religious, racial or social biases.
Mohanbabu explores a similar concept with her Cube of Interaction sculpture. “This universal symbol of integration is created with just a single continuous line that starts and ends at the same point,” she explains. “It represents the idea of continuing life cycles in a world striving towards infinite possibilities. As people, we are interrelated, interconnected and interdependent.”
The work will take permanent residence on the surface of the moon as part of the Moon Gallery in partnership with the European Space Agency’s Moon Mars Mission set to launch in the third quarter of 2022. Mohanbabu is the first and only Singaporean artist to be selected.
Based on her ongoing Interaction series of paintings she started almost 30 years ago, the orange cube measuring a mere cubic centimetre (a larger iteration is pictured with Mohanbabu below) is one of the 100 artworks created by international artists to be featured in a compact 10 cm x 10 cm x 1 cm plate on the exterior panel of a lunar lander. “The Cube of Interaction represents the existential building blocks needed for any kind of habitat—even when we ultimately colonise the moon.”
While exploring the intersection of art, science, and philosophy, she looked at various symbols and found that the mandala best represents this relationship to the infinite, from the cycles of life to our circles of interactions with friends, family and communities, transcending borders, religions and races. In fact, the geometric design of this cosmic diagram can be seen across the globe within Hindu temples, Buddhist stupas, Muslim mosques and Christian cathedrals, among others.
I like to mix different elements, where they don’t look like they belong to one particular place but are a blend of different cultures and ideas— Lakshmi Mohanbabu
“As a representation of racial harmony and interaction, my creation has 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,” she shares. The Interaction paintings are available for viewing at the Art Now gallery in Raffles Arcade. The entire series was also featured as a mosaic animation on the world’s largest high-definition video wall at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre in 2017.
“The Interaction series is quite literally ‘interacting’, in different forms and ways with different people. And now, with this tiny cube, we will have an interaction with space,” enthuses Mohanbabu.
Trained as an architect and fashion designer, she toggles between figurative to geometric art across mediums such as painting, sculpture, furniture, home accessories, jewellery and clothing, in hopes of making her art accessible to everyone.
Such is her dedication to her craft that for the Cube of Interaction, she collaborated with a team at the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster at the Nanyang Technological University to create various prototypes in order to find the most suitable material. They eventually decided on anodised aluminium as it can be created in the colour that she wanted.
The explorations do not stop there. Mohanbabu is looking at converting the paintings into jewellery as well as monumental sculptures. On the latter: “My idea is to have them in various locations in Singapore, and different parts of the world. Each one will take after the city it is located in, be it in terms of its pattern or colour,” she shares.
Meanwhile, she is working on bringing the artists participating in the Moon Gallery to Singapore to showcase their work, before the launch next year, barring the current pandemic situation.
While the Cube of Interaction will soon be making its way to the moon, will Mohanbabu herself be making the journey now that space tourism is close to becoming a reality? Her answer is a steadfast no, before adding, “I would love to go if I was 20 years younger because you have to be physically fit, but now it will have to be in my dreams!”
Related: The Tatler Guide to Visiting Outer Space