What color are you? Indian American Jewish artist Siona Benjamin poses that question to the Cincinnati Jewish community as she takes on an artist residency at the Mayerson JCC this September.
Benjamin is excited to bring her art, stories, and experiences to the community.
“This is a wonderful institution,” Benjamin said. “The JCC empowers the Jewish community and creates a positive space, which is needed in this current antisemitic culture.”
Mayerson JCC Manager of Arts & Culture Eowyn Garfinkle Plymesser is coordinating these events with Benjamin after they met during her exhibit “Beyond Borders” at the Skirball Museum, located on the historic Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
“After meeting with her, she was so radiant,” Garfinkle Plymesser said. “I felt she would be perfect for the JCC Artist in Residence programs because Benjamin has a tremendous amount of experience, and she brings something very unique to the Cincinnati Jewish community.”
During Benjamin’s time at the J, she will lead an event, Chalk the Walk, which will be featured at this year’s Fall Market on September 10. Benjamin has done similar chalk events at other JCCs and said she is excited to see what the community brings to the sidewalk in Cincinnati.
“The art we will be doing is reflective of the Holi festival, which features the colors of spring,” Benjamin said. “During this festival, people throw color at each other, in a welcoming of spring in the Hindu culture. I plan to bring those aspects to Chalk the Walk, where people can draw something colorful, like a lotus flower or a peacock.”
Chalk the Walk is for artists of all levels. There will be stencils available for people to use, but artists are also encouraged to express themselves creatively during the event. A rangoli art style will be encouraged using vibrant chalk colors. There will be two sessions available for families, individuals, and friends to participate in.
Benjamin encourages everyone to take part, even if they don’t feel like an artist.
“It’s something that will make the sidewalk at the J more beautiful,” Garfinkle Plymesser said.
Garfinkle Plymesser sees the events as an opportunity to expose audiences to the diversity of the Jewish community.
Siona Benjamin is an Indian-American who was born in Mumbai and currently lives in New York City. She was raised Jewish in an area that was predominantly Hindu and Muslim.
“Meeting Jewish people with diverse backgrounds is very valuable,” Garfinkle Plymesser said. “There is so much that can be learned from the stories and experiences that Siona shares through her art.” In addition to the Chalk the Walk event, there are two other events that will take place following the Fall Market. There will be a workshop, called What Color Are You? In this workshop, the 60 & Better participants will have the opportunity to find the color that resonates with them. In addition, they will
meet Benjamin, hear about her upbringing in India, how her color became “blue” and about colored gods and mediative Taras in Buddhism.
“I identify as blue, as it is in the sea and the sky,” Benjamin said. “It is everywhere and nowhere at once. Others might find a different color, like the color brown, which could signify being grounded with the earth.”
The Mayerson JCC, in partnership with the Indian Film Festival and the Cultural Centre of India, will also host a screening of her film Blue Like Me, which will include a discussion and Q&A session allowing attendees to delve more into her artwork on September 11. “I’m excited to share these events and activities with the community,” Benjamin said. “It teaches people about the value of diversity. It’s also important to have these events together. I feel like we have been so isolated with technology, and this provides an opportunity for people to reach out and really engage with each other.”
Register and learn more about these upcoming events at MayersonJCC.org/Siona.