ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Blue Like Me: The Paintings of Siona Benjamin at Stockton Art Gallery

By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts

“Friend or Foe?” by Siona Benjamin.

Siona Benjamin is of Bene Israel Jewish descent, was born and grew up among Hindus and Muslims in India, went to Christian and Zoroastrian schools, and is now married to a Connecticut native of Eastern European background. They live in Montclair, New Jersey. “My work reflects my background and the tradition between my old and new worlds,” she says. “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.”

Siona Benjamin’s paintings are now on display at the Stockton College Art Gallery, along with her videos, photo-collages, and installations. These mixed media works are focused on a cast of characters she has created, many of them based on heroines from Jewish and Hindu myths freely blended with personal and pop cultural references. As Eleanor Heartney points out in the exhibition catalog’s essay, Siona Benjamin is an artist who “suggests how religion and tradition can be inclusive rather than divisive.” Her playful blue women refuse to be bound by rigid definitions; instead they enlighten by dancing between different cultures in unexpected ways.

Visually, too, Siona Benjamin’s work brings together opposites: the careful detail of Indian and Persian miniature paintings and the graphic, bold approach of pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. “I couldn’t give up the decorative, elaborate designs of my past,” she says. So instead, her work takes from the old and transforms it, “making a bridge between old and new.” Recently, Benjamin was able to renew her ties to India and its traditional art by spending several months there as part of a Fulbright Fellowship.

WATCH VIDEO:

In 2005, Siona Benjamin was featured in a “The New American Art,” a State of the Arts special featuring American artists responding to a diversity of cultural influences in their work.

“Blue Like Me: The Paintings of Siona Benjamin” can be seen at the Stockton Art Gallery in Galloway, New Jersey through March 27, 2013. On Friday, February 26th at 2:30 pm, Benjamin will be part of a panel discussion at the Gallery, “Unity in Diversity: The Singular Vision of a Citizen of the World.” For more information, visit stockton.edu/artgallery.

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 pm and Thursdays at 11:30 pm.