In these times of turmoil in Israel and elsewhere around the world, the question is asked whether coexistence is even possible. But for Indian-Jewish artist Siona Benjamin, the answer can be seen in the Jews of India, who for centuries have lived in peace with their predominantly Muslim and Hindu neighbors.
Benjamin, originally from Mumbai and of Bene Israel Jewish descent, is the featured artist for Blue Like Me, a multi-disciplinary event presented by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia that is partially funded by the Arts Council of Fairfax County.
Indian Jews still live side-by-side with Muslims in India and historically have not faced anti-Semitism, except for the 2008 Mumbai terror attack on the Chabad House, according to Benjamin.
“Jews learned to live amicably with other religions, otherwise it would not have been good for them,” said Benjamin. “Being raised in a very multicultural society like that teaches you to get along with everybody.”
The opening event took place Oct. 24 with a screening of the new documentary film Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin. A dance performance of Rang de Nila, (Color Me Blue) will be Saturday. Benjamin spends a couple of hours painting the dancers blue and putting them in elaborate costumes before they get on stage.
“The color blue is the color of the sky and the ocean, and that skin color has become a symbol for me of being a Jewish woman of color,” said Benjamin, who lives and works in New Jersey.
Her paintings are on display at the center’s Bodzin Art Gallery through Dec. 14.
The blue-painted Indian women in mythological form hanging on the walls is generating a buzz at the Fairfax building, according to Dan Kirsch, cultural arts director.
“People are stopping and really studying a piece of art and it’s really exciting,” he said.
Benjamin describes herself as a “transcultural artist” because of her background as a Jew, an Indian and an American with family in India, the United States and Israel.
“I was raised very Jewish in a very predominately Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Zoroastrianism society in India,” explained Benjamin. “This multicultural raising in India I took for granted, but now I just feel it’s very unique and different. My 20-year-old daughter has not experienced that, so when I look back I feel that I’m fortunate to have been raised in this very multicultural society that taught me a lot about tolerance and diversity.”