HE first time Lakshmi Mo-
hanbabu watched a Chinese op-
era was in Chinatown in 2001.
She had just moved to Singapore
from Delhi. She recalled being “ex-
tremely fascinated with the
characters’ elaborate expressions”.
That inspired the theme for her first
solo art exhibition SG50 Expressions
to be held at the Art Space @ Suntec
City Mall from Nov 2 to 8.
As a tribute to Singapore, she
painted the various expressions of
Singaporeans over the last 50 years
as she felt that these expressions
would give the spectator a “pulse of
“Performing arts was the first
thought that came to my mind when
I thought of Singapore and expres-
sions-wise, Chinese opera was it,”
said Ms Mohanbabu, who is from
Most of the expressions in the se-
ries of 12 paintings come in pairs,
which she describes as the yin and
yang of emotion. “With joy, comes
sorrow, with agony comes ecstasy.
Only if you have experienced one
feeling would you know the other. I
was inspired when I realised how Sin-
gapore was a swampland before it
emerged as a modern nation and
how it went from rags to riches.
“The journey of Singapore spans
50 years and we will surely experi-
ence more emotions in the coming 50
years as well. I wanted something
that is eternal and relevant long after
I am gone, thus the Expressions
SG50,” she said.
Ms Mohanbabu graduated with an
architecture degree from the Manipal
Institute of Technology in Karnataka
in 1991. The next year, she pursued
fashion design at the National Insti-
tute of Fashion Technology in Delhi
(NIFT). She then taught at NIFT be-
fore coming to Singapore in 2001 to teach at LaSalle
College of the Arts.
Said the 47-year-old who is now a Singapore citi-
zen: “Teaching and studying the history of art, archi-
tecture and fashion and jewellery helped me to visu-
alise and incorporate cross-cultural elements in my
She spent several years researching Chinese op-
era before deciding on incorporating the performing
arts concept to her paintings. She used “elements of
calligraphy in a minimalist modern stylistic ap-
proach” to paint the various expressions.
She also credits her broad understanding of vari-
ous cultures to the fact that she lived in Kabul, Af-
ghanistan, for nine years when her father was work-
ing on a United Nations mission there. “Living in a
war-torn country made me more understanding and
aware of the intricacies of different cultures all
Ms Mohanbabu has done over 300 paintings in
various mediums such as pen and ink, pencil, char-
coal, acrylic and watercolour. While she doesn’t con-
sider one medium harder than the other, she is most
comfortable with the pencil as she can draw with
more precision, compared to oil pastel where she
doesn’t have much control over the flow of colours.
She has also done illustrations in pencil for a book
by the World Health Organisation called Disabled
Village Children, released in 1994 . The illustrations
were created to explain how disabled people living
in rural areas of India can cope with their disabilities
and day-to-day living.
Aside from illustrating and painting, Ms Mohanba-
bu also designs jewellery, furniture and shoes.
She considers both designing and painting to be
her first love as they have a meditative quality for
her. “The thrill of being able to see an idea through
to what I believe is its logical conclusion is extreme-
ly rewarding,” said Ms Mohanbabu, who likes to vis-
it museums and look out for sources of inspiration to
design and paint.
“What is life without design is the mantra I live
by,” she said.
Her paintings feature
the emotions of
the past 50 years
Inspired by Chinese opera
Artistic... Ms Mohanbabu (top) and her sketches and paintings
(above and top left).
October 30, 2015