Siona Benjamin Mural Adds a Splash of Blue to Still Smiling Fest

Cincinnati is becoming known for the high number of murals that dot the city’s landscape, and now a new mural by Indian-American Jewish artist Siona Benjamin was unveiled at the Still Smiling Fest in Walnut Hills. The festival featured the work of multiple artists, including live music performances by Flagboy Giz, Tonina, Tei Shi, and New Thousand. 

The Still Smiling Fest is put on by local arts organization Cincy Nice, who have partnered with Jewish arts organization Ish on numerous occasions, including with a Tzedakah box project last year from Jewish Arts Collaborative called Be the Change. Ish brought the idea of putting up the mural to Cincy Nice for the Still Smiling festival. 

The mural was unveiled in between music acts, and Benjamin had a chance to address the crowd of festival goers and briefly explain her work. 

“My work is called Vashti’s Revenge,” she said. “It is Vashti who was the queen who was cast out in the Story of Queen Esther, and she is peering into our world.”

Benjamin went on to explain how she works with mythology and recycles stories and themes to fit into our contemporary world. The mural, like many of Benjamin’s works, features a mix of influences from Persian and Indian art. 

“She introduced me to the term trans-culturalism, and I resonate with that in juxtaposition to multiculturalism,” said Marie Krulewitch-Browne, executive director of Ish. “I would like to identify as an Italian, Sicilian, Ashkenazi, and Sephardi, I feel like I don’t need this comma, with trans-culturalism it’s all of it blended together.”

The mural is the newest addition to Five Points Alley. One of the many reasons work from Benjamin was chosen is because of the trans-cultural nature of her work. That also meshes with one of the missions of Ish to a human-led organization letting their Jewishness inform what they do. 

“Trans culturalism is a true blending, where it becomes unclear where one culture begins or stops, and the other begins,” said Krulewitch-Browne. “I think it is the most accurate representation of many Americans and many second and third generation immigrants, who have multiple cultures in their heritage.” 

The mural is on the back door of the Mexican restaurant Gomez, and to Benjamin it is a perfect place for it. 

“There is a break in the middle and we looked at a few pieces, I think this was the most effective and dramatic to catch people’s attention,” Benjamin said. “I’m happy to have my work be part of a city with a lot of different art happening in it.”