Artist Siona Benjamin presents a collection of figurative works based on her fascinating transcultural background. Visit her website to see more of art.
I am a Jewish woman of color who was raised in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim society in India. I was educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, and I now live in America.
My art speaks to the similarities I share with my audience—not our differences. I aim to dispel the misconceptions that result in racism, hate and war. In making images that question concepts relating to identity, belonging and who and what is “other,” I feel I can contribute to the much needed repair of culture and society.
My work also reflects my background as a Bene Israel Jew from India and focuses on my experience existing in the transition between ancient and modern worlds.
Using the rich colors of gouache and 22K gold leaf, I apply layers literally with the paint and metaphorically with meaning. I am inspired by the traditional styles of Indian/Persian miniature painting as well as illuminated manuscripts. I blend these ancient forms with contemporary pop culture elements to create my own new vocabulary.
Very often I look down at my skin and it feels as if it has turned blue. The blue skinned characters I create belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. My blue figures are social and cultural agents who raise provocative issues about identity, immigration and the role of art in this transcultural world.
I have given artist presentations at various institutions, such as the Jerusalem Biennale, Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, The University of North Texas, Philadelphia Jewish Museum of Art, The Peabody Essex Museum, Arts Council of Princeton – Contemporary Arts Center, Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum, Rutgers University, Columbia University, Cornell University and Princeton University. Additionally, I have been a panelist for conferences including the College Art Association, the American Studies Association, the Jewish Art Salon and the American Council for Southern Asian Art (ACSAA).
My past exhibits have garnered press in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, The New York Times, The Times of India, The Boston Globe, Art in America, ArtNews, The Chicago Tribune, Art New England, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Jewish Week, Art and Antiques, Marg Magazine several books and publications. My work has also been shown on TV programs on PBS. A documentary film titled Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin has been made on my work.
In 2011, I received a Fulbright fellowship to travel to India for a project—Faces: Weaving Indian Jewish Narratives. In 2017, I received a second Fulbright to Israel to do a project titled—From Motherland to Fatherland: Transcultural Indian Jews in Israel.
I have done public and private commissions, where I work with the commissioning people to make art that is suitable to their private or public venue. I believe that the commissioned piece should be satisfactory to the circumstances and the people who have invited me to do the work.
The constant fluidity of immigrant identity is the core of my research and work. Identity is usually defined through race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality. My art-making over the years addresses these and other important transcultural issues which sorely need awareness and understanding during these critical times of globalization.
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