Skip Navigation
Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Siona Benjamin

Montclair,
USA

Siona Benjamin is a painter originally from Bombay, India, now living in the US. Her work reflects her background of being brought up Jewish in the predominantly Hindu and Muslim India. In her paintings she combines the imagery of her past with the role she plays in America today, making a mosaic inspired by both Indian miniature paintings and Jewish and Christian illuminated manuscripts.

She has an MFA in Painting and a second MFA in Theater set design.

Siona has exhibited in the US, Europe and Asia.

Her work has been featured in: The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Jewish Week in NYC and NJ, The Boston Globe, Art in America, Art New England, Art and Antiques, Moment Magazine and Nashim-A Jewish Feminist Art Journal.

Feminist Artist Statement

In Fereshteh (“angels” in Urdu), I explore the women of the Bible and bring them forward to combat the wars and violence of today in a Midrash (interpretation) of intricate paintings. I am a Bene-Israel Jew originally from India, now living in the US. I am inspired by the style of Indian/Persian miniature paintings, Sephardic icons, the socio-political climate of today and the exploration of my own cultural boundary zones as an immigrant.

Recently, I have been studying the Torah (The five books of Moses) and Midrash (Rabbinical interpretations). While growing up in India, I recall being surrounded by idols and iconography that were taboo in my Jewish world. I eyed these figures from a distance, captivated by their radiance and richness. Since Judaism stressed monotheism and iconoclasm, I somehow resisted the lure of figurative drawing for years. Initially making abstract work and then later, when I did venture to depict the forbidden fruit, my figures were shrouded with darkened faces. Now my work is filled with graven images, as it became clear during my studying and designing sets for theater that I liked the narrative, the theatrical, the decorative lyrical line, this ornateness I carried with me all along. These figures have thus become characters in my paintings that act out their parts, recording, balancing, rectifying, restoring and absorbing. It is through all this that I understand how I can dip into my own personal specifics and universalize, thus playing the role of an artist/activist.

My work celebrates my womanhood, my abilities, my strengths and my ambitions. After having struggled with my own hybrid background and experience, I am beginning to see more clearly that this blend can be humorous, enlightening and revealing. The ornate culture from which I came once seemed difficult and unnecessary to apply in my work. 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.

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 viewers to transcend this apparent exoticness and absorb the core message: acceptance of diversity.

<p>Finding Home#89 Vashti (Fereshteh)</p>

Finding Home#89 Vashti (Fereshteh)

Finding Home # 89 (Fereshteh) “Vashti”

Vashti was cast out
Now she looks in

A black and white setting from yesteryear
Postcards from another target
A chessboard of genocide
The ner tamid of a lost synagogue
A palace of another dictator
Smoke stacks of your ancestor’s crematorium

I search during my journey
But cannot find
How can they erase without a trace
I wonder
Now more than necessary
Along with her dignity
Will she restore yours.

Finding Home#89 Vashti (Fereshteh)

Finding Home # 89 (Fereshteh) “Vashti”

Vashti was cast out
Now she looks in

A black and white setting from yesteryear
Postcards from another target
A chessboard of genocide
The ner tamid of a lost synagogue
A palace of another dictator
Smoke stacks of your ancestor’s crematorium

I search during my journey
But cannot find
How can they erase without a trace
I wonder
Now more than necessary
Along with her dignity
Will she restore yours.

Finding Home #56 Zakhm

Finding Home # 56 “Zakhm” is inspired by a page in the Koran and also by Jewish illuminated manuscripts. Are the swords weapons that will descend on her, or are they protection against unforeseen dangers? What seems like Urdu or Arabic writing above actually spells out “It’s unfortunate” in English.

Finding Home#79 Lilith (Fereshteh)

Finding Home #79 “Ishq” (Fereshteh)

I remember
The day the war was announced
The day Lilith was resurrected
She belongs to neither side
Iraq? US? British? Israel? Palestine? India?
Pakistan? Rwanda?
When blood mingles
It is difficult to tell it apart
Ishq….Love….Passion
How do you translate it?
Is your passion more important than mine?
More caring?
More sustaining?
More passionate?
More necessary?
More vital?
More memories?
More bloody?
More vengeful?

Finding Home#91 Esther (Fereshteh)

Finding Home # 90 - Hear, 91 - See, 92- Speak (Fereshteh) “ Esther”
This image is one of a triptych

Esther, Esther did not want
To do and act her part, she can’t

Not to see, nor hear, nor speak
Not to foretell the picture bleak

Uncle, Uncle remind her then
If she didn’t do her part, then when?

It might just cause the world to end
If she didn’t have those rules to bend

And so we hope that Esther will see
And hear and speak her part clearly

Finding Home#94 Ishmael (Fereshteh)

Finding Home#74 Lilith (Fereshteh)

Based on Jewish Midrashic literature and legends, the character Lilith is identified as the “first Eve,” who was created from the earth at the same time as Adam. She was unwilling to forego her equality with Adam and demanded sexual equality. Rebuffed by Adam, she took her case to God, who responded to her seductive powers by revealing His divine name. Speaking His name out loud, she earned her ticket out of “Pardes” or Paradise and into eternal exile. Thus, Lilith has been called and has represented a mother of demons, slayer of newborns, corruption, indulgence, the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the seductress of men.

Lilith has made a return in feminist history many a time as an symbolic icon who represents the oppressed, as a goddess and as an example of female strength, power and mystery.

The inspiration for the Lilith series came from Roy Lichtenstein, the pop artist, combined with the drama of the Indian Amar Chitra Katha comics. Indian/Persian miniatures, Jewish and Christian illuminated manuscripts also creep into parts of the painting style. The blond heroine in Lichtenstein’s paintings has been recast as a blue maiden. In “A Thousand of Years,” Lilith dons symbols from many faiths. The snake armband perhaps symbolizing Hinduism, the head covering turns into a Tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), the Hamsa or is it the hand of Fatima, her bullet wound or is it a stigmata?

The character of Lilith attracted me as I think she is ideal in portraying the heroine in this series of works. Bringing her forth to today she becomes the woman targeted, the sacrificing mother, the mourning war widow, the brave woman soldier, the violated rape victim in war. Many refugees and victims of wars continue to be civilian women and children. Non-stop war will destroy world economy. Lilith cries out at this injustice after “A Thousand of Years…of waiting” She asks, where is peace, justice, freedom and equality?

Finding Home#75 Lilith (Fereshteh)

Finding Home # 75 (Fereshteh)? “Lilith”

YOU must save us from their wrath
You MUST save us from their wrath
You must SAVE us from their wrath
You must save US from their wrath
You must save us FROM their wrath
You must save us from THEIR wrath
You must save us from their WRATH

Websites

Contact

6 Godfrey Road
Montclair, 07043
USA

Email

Text, images, audio, and/or video in the Feminist Art Base are copyrighted by the contributing artists unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.