Ishq: Paintings by Siona Benjamin

Exhibition dates: October 31 – December 21, 2011
Artist reception:  November 3, 2011, 5:00 to 8 p.m. Bernstein Gallery, Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
Gallery hours: Monday- Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment  

“Ishq: Paintings by Siona Benjamin” combines new and older works by the Montclair, New Jersey based artist, Siona Benjamin.  All of the paintings and installations on view deal with the artist’s fundamental concern for tolerance of diversity in our trans-cultural world. Issues of personal identity, gender and race are explored through the artist’s own perspective as a Jewish child who grew up in a Muslim and Hindu community while attending Catholic and Zoroastrian schools in suburban Bombay, now Mumbai, India.

Coming from a family of Bene Israel Jews, Benjamin has informed her paintings partly from her study of the Torah. In her earlier paintings in particular, she has used the mythologies of women in the Torah as a way to reflect upon contemporary culture. Her style of painting uses various sources, from Indian and Persian miniatures to American Pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. More recent work exploits various media, combining installation, video, and digital photography.

Through her hybrid heroines from Jewish and South Asian culture, Benjamin also comments on human being’s capacity to repeat wars which keep us from world peace and understanding. Benjamin writes, “Yesterday’s wars are still fought today, recycling the same problems, the same anxieties and dilemmas. Nothing seems to have progressed, just the weapons of war have become more advanced in their ferocity. Therefore these heroines of yesteryear are resurrected in my work and have become warriors of today, questioning our measure for love, for passion, for Ishq.” According to the artist, “Ishq is a special term in Urdu for divine love. It could mean an intense, deep love, a strong affection even without the context of divinity.”

Benjamin attended art school in Bombay before coming to study in the US in 1986 where she received two Masters degrees, one in painting (Illinois University, Carbondale, IL) and the other in theater design (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). She has exhibited throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, and has received fellowships and awards for her art. Her work was recently featured in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the Boston Globe, and Art in America, among many other venues. In 2010, Benjamin was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and returned to India to do research for a new series of works, some of which can now be seen at Flomenhaft Gallery in New York City.

Photo credit:
Finding Home #79, “Ishq”, 2006
Gouache and gold leaf on paper
17 x 15”
Courtesy of Flomenhaft Gallery

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