At certain times of the day, the stretch of Lexington Avenue from 26th to 30th streets is fragrant with the aroma of cardamom, cloves, cumin, ginger and the other spices that fire up Indian cuisine. Taxis park all along the side streets, as their drivers take their breaks in the Indian restaurants, fast-food places, sari and spice shops that dominate the neighborhood known alternatively as Curry Hill and Little India. Diners include couples, colleagues and families, with men in turbans as well as kippot, as several of the restaurants are under rabbinic supervision.
Siona Benjamin is alone again. Surrounded by other artists who, like her, have roots in South Asia, the Bombay native stands apart.
Her paintings (which are reminiscent of Indian miniatures) clearly reflect the visual culture of her homeland. But a closer look reveals a distinctive iconography of Hebrew words, menorahs and Sabbath flames drawn from Benjamin's Jewish heritage.
"I believe in using the specifics to get to the general," Benjamin said during a recent interview at her tidy home and studio in Montclair, N.J.