Date of Show: January 23 - March 9, 2003
Curated by: Marion M. Callis
Artist: Siona Benjamin
Artist Siona Benjamin responds to the hybrid experience of her multi-ethnic background with erudition and wit, in miniature-style paintings, mixed media sculptures and two new sculptural installations in Spicy Girl. Benjamin’s traditional Bene Israel Jewish-Indian background initially appears as a driving force in her work: her assiduous training in Bombay, in traditional Indian miniature painting, shows in her images’ formal elegance and intensity, and in their symbolic and narrative functions. Indian miniature style has common elements with miniature painting from Persia, an historic home of many Sephardic Jews. Traditional commonality ends there, however, as Judaism prohibits the creation of graven images, yet Benjamin grew up in a society that vigorously exercised its religious image-making creativity. The conflict that arose from the artist’s experiences with both cultures informs her work, and begs questions of each of their avenues toward spirituality.
Part of Benjamin’s family still resides in Bombay; some family members emigrated to Israel; Benjamin herself came to America, where she married, became a mother, and experienced the cultural soup of America, including the near-worship of pop icons of-the-moment, and historical problems such as racism. Benjamin’s feeling of “rootlessness” as a member of a race that left its original homeland was exacerbated in the States, and she experimented with self-portraiture as relief. The self portrait images, which show Benjamin alternately as a composite creature, or as a multi-armed or multi-headed figure (often with the blue skin of the Indian god Krishna), combine her learned insights of Indian and Jewish traditions with the awkward and often genuinely amusing dilemmas of life in America.
The artist’s edgy content wryly mixes icons of popular western and ancient eastern cultures, telling tales as they have never been told – a single image may be equally erudite, provocative, elegant, and side-splittingly funny. By her fusion of disparate and conflicting elements in her work, Benjamin’s wisdom, humor, and appreciation of cultural mores show diversity and tolerance at their finest.
Marion M. Callis