PASSAGE FROM INDIA
Benjamin’s paintings are made with gouache and twenty-two carat gold leaf on paper, wood panel, and (most recently) mylar sheets. With their vibrant colors, rich details, intricate patterns, and borders, they offer a modern reinterpretation of traditional Indian and Persian miniature paintings. Her subjects derive from her own multicultural background and include womanhood, motherhood, personal identity, immigration, spirituality, war and, implied throughout, tolerance for diversity.
The exhibition includes paintings, sculptural elements, and found objects in order to reference both the artist’s childhood in India and her position as a contemporary artist in the western world. There are winged beings inspired by various mythologies alongside “thought balloons” containing comments in block lettering derived from the conventions of Pop Art. A round field of bright red rice suggests an archetypal Asian foodstuff colored with synthetic American food dye. The materials go beyond their obvious connotations, however. As a result of Benjamin’s artistic “recycling,” they are re-combined in Mandala to produce a beautiful red carpet referencing both Eastern and Western cultures.
Benjamin states that she does not want to be “an ethnographic artist, just explaining my culture in my work. I would like to speak to a universal audience yet try to maintain a delicate balance by using these specifics from my background.” She also notes that she is “inspired by traditional styles of painting, like Indian/Persian miniatures, Byzantine icons and Jewish and Christian illuminated manuscripts, but I blend these ancient forms with pop cultural elements from our times to create a new vocabulary of my own. Using the rich colors of gouache I apply layers, literally with the paint, as well as metaphorically with the content.”
Siona Benjamin is originally from Mumbai, India, of Bene Israel Jewish descent. “My work reflects my background and the tradition between my old and new worlds,” she says. “Having grown up in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim society, having been educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, having been raised Jewish and now living in America, I have always had to reflect upon the cultural boundary zones in which I have lived. In this transcultural America I feel a strong need to make art that will speak to my audience of our similarities, not our differences, as I feel I can contribute to a much needed ‘repair’ through my art.”
Kate Nearpass Ogden - Guest Curator