A MOTHER SMILES INTO THE CAMERA while standing with her arms around her seated daughter. From the fold of flesh on the mother’s arms to the translucent chunni draped over the daughter’s chest, they look like a thousand other Indian mothers and daughters. The grand domed building painted behind them looks like a bas-relief and suggests a studio visit, an over-eager photographer framing this ordinary pair against an extraordinary backdrop. Painted tongues of fire lick at the photograph from all sides, even as waves of water seem to hold the mother and daughter within.
This 35” x 35” photo collage is one of 29 works on display at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum in Mumbai as part of the multimedia artist Siona Benjamin’s exhibition Faces: Weaving Indian Jewish Narratives, which will run through 20 October. Benjamin, whose first show was held at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in 1984, has now returned to the city with a series that explores the lives of men and women from the Bene Israel community in which she grew up.
In 2010 and 2011, with the help of a Fulbright fellowship, Benjamin, who now lives in New Jersey, USA, travelled around India interviewing and taking photographs of 60 Bene Israel members. The photographs were then embedded in paintings that often incorporate memorabilia from the subject’s life to create visual narratives. The project is the latest in a career devoted to investigating Benjamin’s multiple identities (Jewish, American, Indian, woman) through work with multiple media (painting, photography, video and installation).