Contact email@example.com From North America: (510) 550 1173 In Israel: (077) 662 1230
Siona Benjamin, India/USA
What is the cost of survival?
By inscribing jealousy on the bodies of women.
By causing shame, her name attempted to be erased
And the act may never have been done.
Esha holds the fertile womb of her existence
Firmly planted like a tree in the ground.
To take responsibility of our own actions
And not to act out our feelings on others.
Only then can we be full human beings
And stop the erasure of your and my God.
Siona Benjamin is a painter originally from Bombay, now living in the US. Her work reflects her background of being brought up Jewish in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim India. In her paintings she combines the imagery of her past with the role she plays in America today, making a mosaic inspired by both Indian miniature paintings and Sephardic icons. She has her first MFA in painting and a second MFA in Theater set design. She has exhibited in the US, Europe and Asia. She has been recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2010–11 for art project titled Faces: Weaving Indian Jewish Narratives. Research for this project is to be conducted in India.
Her work has been featured in: The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Jewish Week in NYC and NJ, The Boston Globe, Art in America, Art New England, Art and Antiques and Moment magazine.
Reflections on Being a Jewish Woman Artist
In "Fereshteh" ("angels" in Urdu), I explore the women of the bible and bring them forward to combat the wars and violence of today in a Midrash (interpretation) of intricate paintings. I am a Bene Israel Jew originally from India, now living in the US. I am inspired by the style of Indian/Persian miniature paintings, Sephardic icons, the socio-political climate of today and in exploring the cultural boundary zones of my immigrant self.
Recently I have been studying the Torah (The five books of Moses) and Midrash (Rabbinical interpretations). While growing up in India I recall being surrounded by idols and iconography that were taboo in my Jewish world. I eyed these figures from a distance, captivated with their radiance and richness. Since Judaism stressed monotheism and iconoclasm, I somehow resisted the lure of figurative drawing for years. Initially making abstract work and then later, if I did venture to depict the forbidden fruit, my figures were shrouded with darkened faces. Now my work is filled with graven images, as suddenly it became clear during my years studying and designing sets for theater that I liked the narrative, the theatrical, the decorative lyrical line, this ornateness I carried with me all along. These figures have thus become characters in my paintings that act out their parts, recording, balancing, rectifying, restoring and absorbing. It is through all this I understand how I can dip into my own personal specifics and universalize, thus playing the role of an artist/activist.
My work is celebratory of my womanhood, my abilities, my strengths and my ambitions. After having struggled long with my own hybrid background and experience, I am beginning to see more clearly now that this blend can be humorous, enlightening and revealing. The ornate culture from which I came once seemed difficult and unnecessary to apply in my work. Now I have found a way to use it, to be able to weave current issues and parts of my life in its intricacies, thus making this ornateness strong and meaningful. In this way, I attempt to create a dialogue between the ancient and the modern, forcing a confrontation of unresolved issues.
As I have said, this work emphasizes women's issues and raises questions about identity. The forms, though, may appear unconventional and exotic to some. In this multicultural society, I would like the viewers transcend this apparent exoticness and absorb the core message — tolerance of diversity.
—Siona Benjamin 2010