Culture, Religion and Mythology Influence Siona Benjamin's Art

Joanna Gagis talks with artist, Siona Benjamin, about how she uses influences from different cultures, religions and mythology to create stunning artwork. Siona also explains the meaning behind her signature blue woman.

11/26/16 #522






"Siona is from Bombay in India. Here she is, a Jew who grew up in India, in a community that was primarily Hindu and Muslim. She's got this whole amazing mix here. And it all comes together at the tip of the paintbrush. [music playing] Welcome back to Life and Living. Amazing. She's an artist who weaves together influences from different cultures, religions, and mythology, and to the stunning artwork that you just saw, which very often features her signature blue woman. She is Siona Benjamin, she's here in the studio with us right now. Welcome to the program. Thank you for inviting me. Let's talk about that documentary that we just saw about you. What is it? Well, Hal Rifkin, the producer and director, he approached saying that he would like to do a film about ethnic artists in New Jersey, and then that... after he saw my Fulbright work, I just came back from my first Fulbright in India where I had interviewed some of my community there, the... some of the remaining Indian Jews in India, and so he got very interested, he... you know, did a Kickstarter, and we went back to India, and you know, interviewed some of the subjects that I had done for my Fulbright, and also then as an introduction to the documentary, he talked a little bit about my work and what my work is about, my work is about issues of identity and immigration, and sociopolitical situations of what's happening today, so they're all tied in. There's a lot there, and we're gonna try to break it all down, you have a rich story, a rich history, and some beautiful beautiful artwork. Let's give people some context as to who you are, where you grew up, what is your story? I, you know, people don't choose where you are born into, right? And so here I was, born a Jew, in India. And I always was now realizing that I was kind of finding home. My family left India to go to Israel, and some of them still remain in India, and when I came to America, people were always surprised that there were jews in India, and I said "of course there are." Like, you know, and so, you know, I slowly had to realize that I had to educate people about it. Not realizing, you know, that, and I was automatically doing this, it sort of slowly creeped into my work, and so... So when did arts start? I was always an artist. I went to art school in India, and then I came to the US to do my graduate studies in painting, and then in theatre set design. And you know, I was told to paint large abstract paintings to be more successful..."