Raised Jewish in Mumbai, India’s largest city, Siona Benjamin’s multicultural art sends a message.
The message is often delivered by a woman, colored blue. The blue woman is Benjamin’s icon, the lines inspired by the comics of Benjamin’s youth, the woman existing to explore ancient and modern issues. To some extent, the recurring blue woman represents Benjamin. She is, as Benjamin says, “blue like me.”
Benjamin will visit Milwaukee in mid-June as an artist-in-residence, to coincide with the Jewish Museum Milwaukee exhibit, “Beyond Borders: The Art of Siona Benjamin.”
“I started building these characters, and I started thinking, what shade of brown should I paint?” she recalled. She wound up heading in a different direction.
She thought about how blue is a very Jewish color, in the Israeli flag and tallit.
“A lot of the synagogues in India are painted that kind of blue,” Benjamin said. “There are some Indian gods that are painted a dark blue.”
Benjamin’s blue woman is close in color to the sky and the ocean. “And that kind of made me belong anywhere and everywhere,” said this artist who grew up among Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities.
“So it gave me this neutrality, creating a character that would come from anywhere … and she could belong nowhere.”
Benjamin is fascinated with multiculturalism, a passion reflected in her art and with origins in her upbringing.
“There was a huge tolerance,” she said, referring to growing up in India, among a variety of cultures, and with little to no antisemitism. “Jews were such a micro minority … because we were so small a number that nobody really bothered.”
Benjamin holds a master’s in fine art in painting from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Illinois, and has exhibited in the United States, Europe and Asia. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2011 to India, and a second Fulbright fellowship in 2016 to Israel. She’s been covered by The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel and other publications.
In June, she’ll bring her art and its messaging to Milwaukee. She’ll open the “Beyond Borders” exhibit on June 16 with a lecture on her artistic and socio-political motivations. Chalk the Block will be a family-friendly block party, on June 19 and at various locations, including Jewish Museum Milwaukee.
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