Mixed Media Works

Artist Statement

Since my childhood, I have pursued without interruption nature in all her complexities and moods birth, death and the inevitable resurrection.  I therefore must paint about vermilion trees and clouds burdened with rain, about urns of copper and one hopeful flower.  So I weave the gold threads of my creations and reveal the glow around a Sabbath flame.
I was drawn to the medium of enamel in the early years of my study.  Its gem-like quality and transparent colors, which can be built up layer by layer, reveal great depths.  My materials come from the earth, glass tinted by minerals, copper, iron, silver, gold and quartz crystal.  After years of fluctuating between enamel and other more traditional ways of painting, I finally was successful in a marriage of these media.
It was by studying Indian miniature paintings that I learned composition and color balance.  What modern artists are seeking seemed to be already present in these paintings from long ago.  I take inspiration from the religious icons of many cultures, the gold leaf and gaunt figures of Byzantium, the colors and mythology of Hindustan.  All this I fuse with the images that I get from the music of John Coltrane and from Indian ragas to help me explore the human psyche.  Klimt, Giacometti, Magritte and Clemente may be inspiring, but equally so are the textures of the walls, the smell of fresh rain and the rich colors of silk garments woven with gold thread in India.
At first I started making large installations and paintings spilling on to the floor.  Later I began to create similar situations, but in small boxes.  This led me to formally study theatrical set design, where it is wonderful to witness small models taking shape as immense sets on stage.  The influence of theater on my paintings and vice versa was thus inevitable.
I remember the ornate synagogues of my childhood, the oil lamps, the velvet- and silver-covered torahs, a chair left vacant (for whom, I always wondered).  I am a Sephardic Jew from India, my ancestors came from the Middle East (and perhaps from Spain) centuries ago.  Having grown up in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim society, having been educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools and now living in America, I have always had to reflect upon the cultural boundary zones in which I have lived.
At first I painted the "Resurrection" series, which was introspective, dark and searching.  While these paintings are very personal statements, they also reflect the human condition.  These led to the "Body and Soul" series, which were more meditative and revealing.  Recently my work has turned yet another corner, becoming more celebratory of my womanhood, my abilities, my strengths and my ambitions.  After having struggled long with my own hybrid background and experience, I am  beginning to see more clearly now that this blend can be humorous, enlightening and revealing.  Thus I  am creating a dialogue between the ancient and the modern, forcing a confrontation of unresolved issues.  This is expressed even in my choice of materials and techniques, for a literal mixing of new and old - gold leafing, a computer keyboard and an old cigar box - an exciting and energizing process.
   Siona Benjamin

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Updated March 2000