Siona Benjamin's background is beyond exotic, a story no journalist could resist repeating. A Sephardic Jew who grew up in the Bollywood district of Bombay, India, she hails from a milieu that has been defined by a swirl of multiculturalism, including Western and Eastern philosophies and Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim and Zoroastrian traditions. Remarkably, it all ends up represented in her paintings and constructions. Western-thinking professors at Benjamin's Bombay graduate school groomed her to be an abstract painter. And while she once embraced that style, she now paints in an incredibly detailed, narrative and decorative fashion that's influenced by Indian and Persian miniatures. It's everything the profs warned her against, and, maybe because of that, different from most anything out there. But now you'll have a chance to see it: Benjamin's work is featured alongside more traditional northern Indian works in a new exhibit, Women Exploring Symbolism Through Culture: Contemporary Art by Siona Benjamin and the Mithila Folk Paintings of India, at the Museum of Outdoor Arts.
Benjamin's work began to change in the mid-'90s, after she became a mother and settled into a small home studio in New Jersey. In spite of her teachers' admonitions, she'd written her dissertation on miniature painting, though she says she really studied the genre from a Western point of view. Seeking a forum for her own identity issues and the more universal ones sparked by global intolerance, she started experimenting.
"High art has always been inspired by Western influences, while Eastern art was considered folk or kitsch or decorative," she asserts. "But I asked myself, 'How can I start talking about things I didn't want to touch before? Do I want to conform to the mainstream or try to find a way to be able to discuss my differences?'" She came to a decision -- "I started doing everything I was not doing before" -- and commenced on a series of miniatures bound by the title "Finding Home." More than sixty canvases later, the works -- complex, interpretation-defying mazes she likens to "jigsaw paintings" -- are still coming.
The exhibit opens tonight with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m.; there's an artists' symposium from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on April 15. Benjamin will also lead a day-long miniatures workshop on Saturday, April 17. The show continues through June 4; for details, call 303-806-0444 or log on to www.moaonline.org. The museum is at 1000 Englewood Parkway, in the Englewood Civic Center. -- Susan Froyd
Lust for Lifeleads DAM spring film series
The Denver Art Museum may not have many Van Goghs hanging on its walls -- at least not permanently -- but tonight, fans of the Dutch master will be able to watch a portrayal of the crazed genius in all his misunderstood glory. DAM's Art Goes to the Movies kicks off its spring showcase with Vincente Minnelli's 1956 classic Lust for Life, a dramatization of Vincent Van Gogh's life. "It's always difficult for Hollywood to make a movie about an artist," notes DAM film-series curator Thomas Delapa. "They tend to glamorize and simplify, when these artists actually had difficult, tragic lives. Lust for Life is an atypically honest portrayal."
The film features a passionate, jaw-clenching performance by Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh -- bearded, with dyed red hair, he is a spit-shined image of the painter's self portraits -- as well as an Oscar-winning turn by Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin.
Lust for Life is the first of seven films in a series about art and artists running at the Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street, through May 25. Another Minnelli picture, An American in Paris (1951), along with the documentary Christo's Valley Curtain (1974) and the Ed Harris film Pollock (2000), will also be screened.
The seven-week series is sponsored by the Sundance Channel and is presented in partnership with Curious Theatre's staging of Inventing Van Gogh (see page 41). Tickets for the entire series are $40 for DAM members, $45 for others. Single tickets are available for $7 for DAM members, $8 for non-members. For more information, call 720-913-0105. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
Bushwomen Author Comes to Town
Dive into the already tumultuous 2004 presidential campaign with tonight's political discussion and book signing featuring Laura Flanders, author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species. "The Bushwomen -- women appointed to the inner circle of the president's cabinet and sub-cabinet -- are an extremist administration's female front," writes Flanders, who believes that this group has gotten a free ride from the press. "Cast in the public mind as maverick or moderate, or irrelevant, laughable or benign, their well-spun image taps into convenient stereotypes, while the reality remains out of sight. If women were taken seriously, the Bushwomen con job wouldn't stand a chance, but in the contemporary United States, it just might."
Flanders, the California-based host of public radio's Your Call program, provides in-depth profiles of several key conservative female players from the current Bush administration -- National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christie Todd Whitman, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Gale Norton and presidential advisor Karen Hughes.