ANNE: Your practice is heavily invested in symbols and symbolism, from self-contained icons or pictograms which seem to be communicating a message, to interlocking patterns which use symbols as part of a larger structure. There are recurring motifs – hands, snakes – and those with recognisable histories, like the Celtic triskele three-spiral design. Could you say something about how and why you started working with symbols, and about the systems they reference?
Mani Kambo: I find symbols an easier way to share a feeling or idea that language and words can’t always express. I started to work with symbols as I was drawn to how an image or mark can express a lot: symbols can be universal but also hold a secret or personal meaning.
Some of the symbols I use have a more universal meaning, such as the eye or hand, but for me, they stand for something that’s a reflection of myself. The hand I use is for the mother – the protector – and the eye to ward off and reflect back; to look to new horizons. These are symbols that also relate to my upbringing: the eye could also be seen as nazar (‘evil eye’) which someone may place upon you with intent or without; and the hand is probably one of the most powerful symbols. We use our hands to create and protect, and enable action and reaction.
In terms of the recurring motifs, I’m interested in ideas around cycles, energy and transformation. The power of repetition through imagery, words or actions creates energy you can feel. I started by using symbols around me that I recognised and understood or felt a connection with, but over time have moved away and created my own versions, specific to me.