The Galleries at CSU: Beyond Borders: The Art of Siona Benjamin

The Galleries at Cleveland State University is a venue that provides a variety of visual programming for the university and the community. It host local and regional artists as well as national and international artists. 

The Galleries is currently hosting Beyond Borders: The Art of Siona Benjamin through March 25, 2023. This solo exhibition includes the works of artist Siona Benjamin, focusing on themes such as immigration, gender, race, and the concept of “home” through the lens of the Jewish culture. 

“Benjamin grew up as a Jew and a member of the Bene Israel community in a largely Hindu and Muslim community in Mumbai, India. Even with that she attended Catholic and Zoroastrian schools before resettling in the United States.” (The Galleries at CSU). 

Hence, many of her pieces are inspired by all the diversity and culture she has been exposed to. 

A lot of Benjamin’s work is eye-catching personally for me because of its bright and strong colors. Most of her pieces are made up of colors such as red, bright blue, oranges, and yellows, which are very strong and eye-catching colors. And in most of her pieces, the people or person are blue. 

Benjamin quotes that; “For me, being blue is a symbol for being other.” in a wall piece on display in the gallery.

Image taken by Htoo Htoo Thaw

Not only that, for her using the color blue is to reference the frequent use of it in the Jewish culture which was explained in a small biography curated by Dr. Samantha Baskind. 

There were a couple pieces I felt drawn to because of my similar experience of being an immigrant. 

The first piece is an American flag but within it there were details of sketches and drawings, which I assume pertain to her life. But above the quote, “I describe myself as belonging both everywhere and nowhere.” was what really stood out to me. This quote struck me because I too grew up in a Christian home alongside a Buddhist grandfather, while in the U.S. I attended Catholic school. Being surrounded by these different beliefs really made me feel like I belong both everywhere and nowhere.

Image taken by Htoo Htoo Thaw

The next piece that I felt drawn to was part of her series called Finding Home, which focuses on her desire to “find home” both literally and spiritually (read below).

The piece on the left, really stood out to me because of how the being is juggling different parts of their identity in their hands. As an immigrant myself, with a transcultural background, I also feel like I am always juggling to balance between the different parts of my identity. 

At school, I am American. I speak English, I eat burgers, and I listen to American music, etc. 

At home, I am Karenni. I speak my native language, I eat native culture food, and I listen to Karenni songs. In society, I am Thai. I was born there, I lived there, and I am from there. But I’m also Burmese because that’s where my family is originally from.  

With this transcultural background I always feel as if I am a part of everything, yet I am a part of nothing as well. It’s hard for me to balance these parts of me in a society where you’re expected to be one or nothing. There’s not really an in between. 

Overall, Ienjoyed walking through and seeing Benjamin’s pieces and work. It’s very different from what I usually see when I am at our local art museum. Her works are very personal and almost like a story to her life. It is a must see show.

The hours for The Galleries are linked below as well as upcoming shows such as the 51st Annual Student Art Show and Merit Scholarship Exhibition.

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