Indepth Arts News: |
"Siona Benjamin: Multicultural Identities"
2002-01-07 until 2002-02-08
Columbus College of Art and Design
USA United States of America
Siona Benjamin, who grew up a Sephardic Jew (Middle Eastern
and Spanish ancestral heritage) in India, explores the dialogue
between ancient and modern in her Muslim- and Hindu-inspired
paintings and collage sculptures, which also incorporate Jewish
iconography. Awareness of her hybrid background is enforced
through simultaneously playful and sobering realization of
multiple identities in two series of work entitled Finding Home
and Spicy Girl.
I am currently working on a series of paintings entitled Finding Home. In this work I raise questions about what and where is home,
while evoking issues such as identity, immigration, motherhood, and the role of art in social change. I am a Sephardic Jew from India
(my ancestors came to India from the Middle East and perhaps also Spain centuries ago). My family has gradually dispersed (again),
mostly to Israel and America, but my parents remained in India. I am now also an American. With such a background, the desire to find
home, spiritually and literally, has always preoccupied me — a concern that I feel many Americans can
relate to, as this comparatively younger nation was largely formed by immigrants and their
descendants. The feeling I have of never being able to set deep roots no matter where I am is
unnerving, but on the other hand, there is something seductive about the spiritual borderland in which I
seem to find myself.
My paintings also explore female energy and power, as I am inspired by tantric art (of ancient India).
The work is informed as well by Indian miniature paintings, Byzantine icons and Jewish religious art
from my childhood. Thus far I have completed forty paintings on paper in gouache and gold leaf for this
project and I will create approximately twenty more. These paintings will be displayed on the wall along
with an installation on the floor in the form of a mandala.
I envision the full series of paintings, once completed, to remain together as a unit, as part of a traveling
exhibition. Rather than having only the usual (passive) display format, I will be interested in engaging
the viewers in a dialogue, using the exhibition in a gallery as the focal point and backdrop for events
during which the topics of the paintings would be discussed.
During the past few years I have been involved in teaching multiculturalism in schools and
communities through the Illinois Arts Council Arts-in-Education program. While working on these
cross-cultural projects with students in schools and communities, I have come to many realizations about myself as a painter. I am still
trying to reconcile the conflicts I experienced in my own upbringing as a Jew who attended Catholic and Zoroastrian schools while
growing up in (predominantly Hindu and Muslim) India! On top of this, I have lived in or made extended visits to Europe, the Middle East
and, of course, the U. S. For a long time I did not know what to do with my own hybrid background and experiences. The residency
projects suggested to me how I might delve into the essence of my own individual history. The point is that this has become a cyclical
process, with my own research and paintings stimulating my work in my teaching, which in turn returns energy and inspiration back to
my own paintings.
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.