Three years ago, Israel-born, New York-based artist Ghiora Aharoni received a trove of letters from his childhood friend. Aharoni was surprised to find that they were written by his mother when she was an adolescent girl in the 1950s. The letters revealed that his friend’s father was the object of his mother’s desire.
“My mother passed away 20 years ago; reading those letters revealed a side of her I never knew. This discovery was the catalyst that set me thinking about sentiment, attachment and detachment,” says the artist, who has come up with a new set of works, titled Missives. They are currently on display at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla.
Aharoni’s works explore universal notions of desire, ritual and courtship. The letters, which are incorporated into collages, melded with vintage phulkaris or juxtaposed with snapshots collected by the artist when he was in India, fashion a narrative cycle encompassing history, symbolism and imagination.
Interestingly, the artist also believes that the works symbolise his love for India. “When I first landed in Delhi a decade ago, I felt at home in a place I’d never been to. I've travelled through the country in the last 10 years, clicking images and collecting vintage photographs which comprise an extensive collection of memories.”
Ask him about his favourite creation, and he feels the phulkaris have a particular resonance. “On one hand, they embody the aspirations of a young girl; the Indian woman for whom the phulkari would have been part of her wedding dowry, and on the other, they also represent my mother’s desire for the object of her affection,” says Aharoni.
The letters were written by his mother a long time ago, so does he notice a change in the notion of love when he reads them today?
“Desire is timeless,” he says.