Imagine going through life saying everything you think and feel out loud. You might find yourself being sued, alienated or restrained. So to get through life we all censor ourselves to some degree. A little going with the flow here, a little grinning and bearing it there, we are compelled to keep a lid on our true selves some of the time so we can keep jobs, families, friends and relative global harmony. Even Trump deletes the odd tweet. It’s possible that we might be lucky enough to live openly and honestly, but even the most evolved of us has had moments where we’ve had to stuff our fist in our mouth to save from shooting it off and losing what we’ve got. And there are those that have to shoot up just to stifle their inner voice and the shame it causes. The public persona and the inner self are two sides of the same coin but how do we face each other?
The mistress of art dealing in dichotomies is here to examine our true nature. ‘Smokescreen’, by Lakshmi Mohanbabu, is the latest series in an exceptional body of work that probes diversity and unity, chaos and order, light and dark, destruction and creation, and how we can never be one without the other. “None of us are an open book,” says Lakshmi, after mounting canvases, setting up sculptures and arranging décor in a restored Singaporean shophouse for her recent successful solo exhibition — Altered States. “We all have contrasts. But I think that what makes us different also makes us the same. And there’s solace in that.”
With such a curious artist on their hands, Addicted Art Gallery decided to step outside the online space and present an exhibition to feature ‘Smokescreen’ as a continuation of Lakshmi’s diverse body of work. Because she is all of us — who better to feature than someone who reflects the human condition we all share. To quote our previous profile of Lakshmi: “She is Singaporean but she grew up in Afghanistan. Her heritage is partly Indian but she has lived in Europe and Asia. She’s based on the Little Red Dot but her work transcends boundaries. She is an artist but she’s also an architect, fashion designer, teacher, jewellery designer and sculptor. She loves to work in pen and ink but she’s equally comfortable with acrylics, water colours and 3D design. Her work takes on complicated social issues and emotions but is very easy to understand, not to mention exciting to view.”
‘Smokescreen’ is a look at ourselves laid bare. The tumultuous outpouring of our true selves when we unburden ourselves in private. Using acrylic on canvas, Lakshmi casts strong profiles full of movement and expression using her trademark ability for harnessing vibrant colour, contrast and shadow. Where the faces of her ‘Colours of Unity’ and ‘Expressions’ series were symmetrical and direct, the figures in ‘Smokescreen’ seem to capture a moment in time where the subjects are bursting forth from darkness. As always, deliberate colour choices play a significant part in the pieces, denoting that complimentary colour wheel selections can also be used to convey contrast.
There’s a constant tension in the work of Lakshmi Mohanbabu. The knowledge that a thing can’t exist except in relation to its opposing force. Just as important as the thing you are seeing is the thing you are not looking at. Reverence for the concept of yin and yang is obvious in works from her ‘Interactions’ and ‘Nautilus’ series, but Lakshmi continues to skilfully cultivate the negative space in ‘Smokescreen’ with subtle effect. Ultimately, her art is best appreciated as a continuous, evolving story. The opportunity to witness several pieces alongside each other give greater resonance to each individual painting, sculpture, scarf, rug and jewellery item. The boldness of her art lends itself beautifully to being applied to all manner of design-led collectible objects.
Ultimately, Lakshmi is a dichotomy, a series of contradictions, and a whole lot of talent wrapped into one. Seeing what she does next is an exciting moment for genuine art lovers. With a style that is indefinable and skills that allow her to work figuratively, geometrically and abstractly across a range of mediums, her work is always fresh and thought provoking. Till then, we will soldier on in our double lives drinking a little too much and binging on Netflix safe in the knowledge that someone understands us like a priest in a confessional box.
Written by Skye Wellington