Siona's Three Cultures, Colliding
|She sits in a chariot, clad in jeans, crossing over what could be sea or sky: on one shore await her parents in India, on the other shore is a little house with her husband and daughter in America. Along the border is the Eliyahu Hannabi prayer, transliterated in Marathi, the language she grew up with in Bombay, as an Indian Jew from the Bene Israel tribe.|
This striking image from the “Finding Home” series depicts the many overlapping worlds of artist Siona Benjamin, who came to America 20 years back. Most of her family has emigrated to Israel or America; only her parents remain in India.
“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,” says Benjamin who lives in Montclair, NJ.
She combines the rich imagery of her past with her American present, creating a mosaic inspired by Indian miniature paintings, Christian illuminated art and Sephardic symbols. “I can claim all of it because I grew up with Muslim and Hindu friends. I went to Catholic and Zoroastrian schools. I studied Hindu miniature painting. I spent 23 years of my life in India so it’s a part of me.”
Her very contemporary work is about political and social issues, issues of identity and gender but they are all juxtaposed with classical miniature painting, Hebrew religious texts and even Bollywood iconography and Americana in this cauldron of many cultures, past and present.
“The ornate culture from which I came once seemed difficult and unnecessary to apply in my work,” she says. “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.”