Angelique Benicio: SRHS Mom Makes Wild-Hearted Art


Sarah Williams, Contributor

Painting at her studio in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael, Angelique Benicio, mother of current senior Amelie Benicio and her brother, Nilo, a 2019 graduate, utilizes the opportunity that the United States gives her to be everything that she wants to be: the most powerful version of herself.

Born in Cromwell, Connecticut, Angelique grew up with four siblings at the end of a little private road in the midst of a cedar forest. This is where her wild imagination sprouted, for she was allotted the freedom in her childhood to adventure through the acres of the forest that surrounded her home. Currently, she expresses this creativity through home decor: old baby dolls, fly-headed mannequins, vintage arcade games, and her own paintings. 

She was the daughter of German immigrants who had grown up during World War II and came to the United States as refugees. Her parents contributed to the development of her creative side due to their strong connection with the war they experienced. She had to make sense of their WWII reality from a small town in Connecticut, where the war seemed like such a distant thing.

She explained her situation as “having parents that came out of a fairy tale, except a horror-fairy tale.” This disconnect between realities pushed her to be more creative in order to understand the world when nothing and nobody is as they seem. In turn, her interest piqued towards travel and the different realities people have due to the places they live and the norms they are familiar with. 

So, when her father was offered a job in San Jose, California, Angelique jumped at the opportunity to leave Connecticut and go with him despite it being in the middle of her junior year of high school.

“Everyone thought I was crazy for wanting to leave in the middle of the year,” she said. However, people who know Angelique know that something out of the ordinary is not uncommon for her. When I asked her ex-husband, Mario Benicio, to share a story about her that worked to reveal her crazy side, he explained how he couldn’t pinpoint just one moment.

“It was 24 hours a day. All the time she was [crazy and unexpected]. It was so much more than just one moment,” Mario said.

In addition to being the life of the party, Angelique had also been a dreamer her whole life. She had always hoped of having two kids and traveling in her lifetime. She wanted to travel and live in many places, rather than just visit them. She wanted to experience the diverse norms people have, and understand what it’s like to be a human being in all parts of the world. A level that you can’t achieve without actually living in, or spending a lot of time in a place.

“I also dreamt I would grow up and get rich and own Dracula’s castle, and I haven’t done that yet,” she jokingly told me.

After finishing high school and graduating from San Jose State as an art major, Angelique was working as an artist for a company in San Rafael. This is where she met Mario, who was from Brazil. They began working on a project together and had the opportunity to move to Brazil to finish it, so they did. They both loved to travel and continued to do so together for many years.

Angelique knew she couldn’t travel forever because she wanted to have children and needed to remain in one place so her kids could have a stable environment to grow up in. 

Nevertheless, this didn’t stop Angelique from making the most of the time she had before settling down. She hit the ground running, applying for art residencies in numerous countries while also taking care of her two young children. From Norway, to Brazil, to Paris, she and Mario traveled until they reached exhaustion and settled in Paris for 5 years.

With her kids approaching school age fast and a separation with her husband, Angelique made the crucial decision to return to the United States and settle in the Bay Area. It was difficult for her to decide where to return because she loved California, but her home was the East Coast. Despite her uncertainty, the Bay Area ended up being “the place I felt [she] could make the life of a single mom and artist with two kids work, and make it a life that we all deserved,” she said.

And she did just that. Just as she imagined from her childhood, she made it happen. 

Throughout her travels she learned so much, but one thing that really impacted her was the sexism she experienced in different countries. While working abroad, she was getting “just as dirty as the guys, but wasn’t treated the same” when it came to her work as a children’s magazine illustrator, film costume fabricator, and prop-maker. 

These experiences forced her to step up, stop wasting time, and really focus on putting energy towards people and things that mattered to her, including family and her own art career. She realized that it was necessary for her to go where she could be the best and strongest version of herself.

For her, the United States was the place. She was able to be a strong and independent woman, mother, and artist without anyone telling her anything else. Still though, all that she had learned in her travels stayed with her through her art, and her participation in social movements.

She reveals themes that are soft, subtle, and often a little creepy. They are supposed to be a reminder for people to be human and vulnerable. She wants to strip away the barriers that people put up, and remind them of childhood thoughts and feelings, and the moments when we were the purest versions of ourselves. 

This is what she does in her live performances, which oftentimes includes a clown character, making her a professional clown. Don’t mistake her for a kids’ performer; Angelique’s clown performances are for adults only. It’s another way she demonstrates her artistic abilities and inner feelings. These performances are strange to the common eye, but the courage it takes to do such performances is daunting and truly powerful.

She explains how her performances make her feel very alive. 

“It feeds me,” she said. “Putting yourself out there fearlessly. That’s all my vulnerable stuff inside. It’s my internal stories I’ve been telling myself since I was a kid. Those are the kinds of stories I put on stage. It feels good and really empowering.”

Through her own expression, she hopes that others see it and it gives them courage for themselves. She wants to inspire other women to allow their vulnerability to be a strength, and to do exactly what they want to do in life.

She urges this upon her daughter, Amelie. “She encourages me to stick to what I believe in. And if I was passionate about something, she believed that I should fight for it in the heat of the moment,” Amelie said, about her mother and how she supports her, and her friends, to be loud and proud with their beliefs. 

Whether protesting in San Francisco, Washington D.C., or downtown San Rafael, you can count on Angelique to be there with an elaborately decorated sign, wearing a lavish mask, voicing her opinion and prompting others to do the same.