I saw Avatar this past weekend and was blown away by its visuals and lush immersive world, even if the plot was about a half-inch deep. I was thoroughly won over by the 3D experience, and frequently had to remind myself that these 12-foot tall blue aliens on Pandora called the Na’avi were not real. So it was a bit of a shock to walk back into work on Monday and see a room full of Na’vi women (and Jewish to-boot) in our Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery (on view through January 29th).
Well, not exactly. But certainly the Omaticaya’s spiritual leader, Mo’at would not be entirely out of place amongst artist Siona Benjamin’s blue biblical women such as Miriam, Lilith and Tzipporah. Well before James Cameron was working with his CGI characters, Benjamin has been drawing inspiration from Hindu iconography to explore the challenges and contradictions of her own Indian Jewish (and American) identity. The accompanying guide to the exhibit states, “By reinventing and re-imagining various cultural icons of womanhood rooted in ancient and historical religious sources, Benjamin’s art opens up a new cultural and aesthetic space for the contemplation of diasporic realities including American popular culture, Hindu and Jewish beliefs, Middle Eastern politics and the strains of religious intolerance.” For Benjamin, blue skin is the symbol of being a Jewish woman of color.
I emailed Siona to ask if she has seen the movie yet. I got a reply from India that she was travelling, but hoped to see it soon. I wonder how she’ll react to a planet filled with giant blue women?
For those who are fans of the movie, I also recommend reading “Blueface, Whitenoise” by Jared Gardner in the Huffington Post which makes, I think, a very apt comparison between the themes of Avatar and The Jazz Singer.