On Sunday, November 20, braving the torrential rains and the flooded streets that soon turned into overflowing waterways, a flotilla of art and salon devotees made its way to Ahavat Torah’s temple to hear the extraordinary story of how Siona Benjamin made her Scroll of Esther, a facsimile of which our congregation has recently purchased.
The audience was spellbound as Siona presented images of the various stages she went through in her research into midrash and imagery relating both to the Biblical story of Esther and to examples of costumes and settings from Persian and Mughal miniature art, which she then transformed into original creations, illuminating her scroll with paintings in a unique fusion of styles and interpretations.
Often humorous winks to the viewer would peer out from the borders and the corners of the pages. It was truly awesome—a word that is much overused, but which applies to the awe we experienced before the intricacies of her melding of Judaism and Persian and Moghul textual and visual art conventions with the facial expressions and physical gestures of the main figures in the story.
Siona Benjamin’s Jewish Indian art is about a diasporic woman’s search for her spiritual home. She harmonizes tendencies from a diversity of traditions, and finds the common roots and similarities that connect them to each other in meaningful ways in order to “repair the world” (tikkun olam) and transform darkness into light. Her creative oeuvre, to my mind, is unique in Jewish, women’s, and world art history.
All who attended this event, despite the big storm, found their cups filled to overflowing (like the streets) and seemed to have been uplifted to a state of ecstasy by Siona’s presence. We all hope that she will find more venues to exhibit her work in L.A. again, and that she will return to us, because she fell in love with our temple –our Rabbi, our congregants, and our guests. Thank you all for your intrepid valor--- on that day—and always.