Montclair Artist Siona Benjamin Draws on Rainbow of Cultural Influences

Benjamin's background as a Jewish woman raised in Mumbai, India, and educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, informs her colorful work.

Artist Siona Benjamin sits on the tile mosaic she created.
Montclair artist Siona Benjamin spent over a year creating this 15-foot-wide, circular tile mosaic for the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, which depicts a zodiac wheel with markers for the Jewish holidays. Courtesy of Kristi Foster

When Rebecca Frezza and her husband Bob took over a yoga studio in Montclair four years ago, they wanted to add their own flair.

She knew Montclair-based artist Siona Benjmain, a longtime friend, was the woman for the job.

“I wanted to find something that didn’t feel specific to any religion or culture,” says Frezza. “Siona’s work kind of does that.”

Benjamin’s art is a reflection of what she calls her transcultural background as a Jewish woman from Mumbai, India, a predominantly Hindu and Muslim society, educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools. She came to the United States more than 30 years ago to continue her education, eventually earning two MFA degrees. She settled in a craftsman-style home with her family in Upper Montclair in 2002.

Her work tinkers with time, taking inspiration from illuminated manuscripts and multicultural mythology, with references to Lilith and other powerful female figures, as well as pop-art comics.

Benjamin, a recipient of two Fulbright fellowships, uses bold colors, but she is perhaps best known for her unique blue figures.

“The blue character is a symbol of being a Jewish woman of color, of being ‘the other,’ of being transcultural, of not belonging and belonging at the same time,” says Benjamin. “I think that’s why my work has been so well received, in part; because of that universal message.”

[RELATED: Behind the Epic WWI Memorial Being Sculpted in an Englewood Warehouse]

“What really resonated for me most is a lot of her art is about making the world a better place and it speaks really to everyone,” says Heather Carter, Benjamin’s Montclair-based agent. “The art almost transcends, in a way, identity, for a bigger, broader message appealing to really everyone.”

In addition to Zura, Frezza’s yoga studio, Benjamin’s work adorns the walls of the MC Hotel in downtown Montclair and numerous private homes.

For Zura, Frezza collaborated with Benjamin to pick colorful mandalas, which to Frezza represent movement and strength. These were transferred onto banners and wall decals for the studio. Even Zura’s company logo is a Benjamin original. (The art is moving this month to Zura’s new location in Bloomfield.)

Lana Masor, a Montclair-based designer and cofounder of 4 Flavors Art Gallery & Framing, commissioned Benjamin to custom design porcelain tiles for her backyard swimming pool. Like others, Masor was drawn to Benjamin’s empowered, blue, female figures; Benjamin’s tiles for her pool depicts a blue woman coming out of the water surrounded by lotus flowers.

Benjamin’s ability to translate her art to different media, from paintings to tile work, is “very special, and I think really shows the scope of what Siona can do,” says Masor.

Benjamin’s work can be found in public and private spaces around the world. She recently illustated a children’s book, I Am Hava: A Song’s Story of Love, Hope & Joy, which is due out in November; a documentary film about her life and work, Blue Like Me, is available on Amazon.

Prints and products, including shawls, blankets, yoga mats and more, are available on her website artsiona.com; some of the proceeds benefit pandemic-related causes.

Click here to leave a comment
Read more Arts & Entertainment articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required
Required not shown
Required not shown