Five Minutes With Jana Benitez

Five Minutes With Jana Benitez

The Bath- and New York-based visual artist on reclaiming a male-centric genre, the stress-relief kits she keeps around the house, and learning Filipino with flash cards.

Jana Benitez

ceramic plate by Atalanti Martinou

Right now, I’m loving…

ceramics by my friend Atalanti Martinou in Athens, Greece, who has been a mentor to me in the art world. I was so excited to see the extent of her work, I just ordered a ton of stuff. And justified it by being like, these would make great gifts. $117.62.

blanket from Kalinga, in the northern Philippines

A prized possession is…

this blanket made by a friend from Kalinga, in the northern Philippines, whose family has maintained their ancestral weaving traditions. As a Filipino-American, I’ve always felt a yearning for more connection to these traditions, while also feeling slightly outside of them. The blanket offers a sense of belonging.

The I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination manual

On my bedside table is…

The I Ching [an ancient Chinese divination manual]. If I’m struggling with a big question, I will take the time to consult it properly, but more often, I’ll just open it up, believing that page is the one I’m supposed to see, and use it as a prompt for reflection.

place-card holder box

“This place-card holder box is wrapped in T’Boli weaving from the southern Philippines. I’m influenced by the passing on of traditions, and seek that rootedness in my painting.”

colored pencils

All over my house are…

drawing baskets with colored pencils and paper. I saw the idea in a book when I was a kid, and it was like a dream. You can have pencils everywhere and draw all the time? If I’m stressed or stuck, it makes it easy to move through ideas. Before my last show, I did 108 drawings.

PVC pipe portraits

I smile when I see…

my friends on these PVC pipes I painted in grad school. I was doing a project and it morphed into painting people I missed. I intended to send everyone their portraits, but they realized it would be cooler for me to have them all. They live on a little wooden ledge in my house.

Tagalog flash cards

I’m practicing…

Tagalog [the official language of the Philippines] with flash cards. Growing up in New York City, I studied French and Spanish before learning Filipino. Being in Maine, around so few people of color, has brought out a need to be closer to my Filipino heritage. I wasn’t cooking Filipino food very often before I moved here.

"Dear Jessica," by Jana Benitez
Photographed by David Clough

Recently, I completed…

Dear Jessica — a nod to the Joan Snyder painting A Letter to My Female Friends. The abstract expressionists, the big brushstrokes, are often associated with white, male, Western. This is seeking a more collective vibe.