Finding Home

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June 1, 2012
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Siona Benjamin

I began a series called “Finding Home,” and then some of the paintings in that series sprouted branches for other series. One of those branches is a series I call Fereshteh (an Urdu word that means “angels”), which explores women from biblical and midrashic sources in contemporary settings. Rather than painting Rebecca at the well or Ruth in the cornfields, I choose to place them in current scenes. I recycle mythology to reinvent and rejuvenate it in order to make it relevant today.

So, in the painting “Vashti” (below), part of the Fereshteh series, we have the first wife of King Ahashverosh looking through an arched window. She’s been banished, and when she comes back, she looks through the window (like Alice in Wonderland). She’s become a giant and she observes the so-called palace of the king. What she sees may be a destroyed synagogue or a home ruined by war; it could be any place, in any time.

I consider myself a transplant. As a Jew in India, I always felt slightly foreign. From the time I was young, even in India, I felt transcultural. What, then, is home? This is a question that has been on my mind from very early on. I am a Jew raised by a Jewish family in the middle of Hindu Muslim India.  I went to Catholic and Zoroastrian schools and later to art school.  Then I came to America. I married an American, and now I have a child who is half Russian-Polish and half Indian-Jewish.

As a transcultured person, I can pitch my tent wherever I go. That sense of being of many cultures enriches my work. It used to be tedious to explain who I am, but now my story unfolds as a story of movement across place and time. In some ways, this is the story of every American and every transcultural person — no matter where they live.

The two aspects of my identity blend. It’s like cooking — different ingredients stand out even in a blended soup. I can taste the pepper or garlic.

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Siona Benjamin, a painter originally from Bombay, now lives in the United States. She has two masters degrees in fine arts — one in painting and another in theater set design. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2010-11 for her art project, “Faces: Weaving Indian Jewish Narratives,” which she researched in India. Her art can be viewed at artsiona.com.

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