Two events in artist Ghiora Aharonis life are etched in his memory. The first is when he stepped on to Indian soil 10 years ago. Landing in Delhi on a humid summer evening,he says,felt like he was home. The second was three years ago when a close family friend gave him a box of love letters sent by his mother to her lover as a teenager. Going through the crumpled letters that spoke of love and longing,he was reminded of a similar sense of attachment he experienced on his numerous trips to India. Sensing a strong connect between the two incidents,he spent two-and-a-half years creating pieces that would encompass these two loves his mothers love letters and his inexplicable love for India.
These pieces by Aharoni are currently on display at Mumbais Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum. Curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta,the exhibition is open till November 17. The show titled Missives is Aharonis first solo exhibition in India. The Israeli-born America-based artist has used vintage phulkaris,silk embroidery and thousands of old photographs to capture the memories of his mothers love,juxtaposed with his own engagement with Indian crafts and traditions.
To the artist,reading the letters was like going through someones photo album. To translate the letters visually,Aharoni has placed thousands of postcard-sized vintage photographs in a large rectangular glass box. He has a collection of over 30,000 old photographs of India from the early 1920s. These are snippets of memories from my mothers letters which she wrote in 1957 from Jerusalem. She makes subtle references to a time or a place that can be seen through the photographs, says Aharoni. Among the photos,the artist has placed crumpled versions of his mothers letters in Hebrew printed on thin wax papers.
The associations Aharoni makes between the letters and his encounters in India are noticeable. Once while walking on the streets of Patna,he came across a small studio that took passport-sized photos of people. Years later when I was reading one of my mothers letter,I came across names and faces that she had described at length. But I had never heard of them. They were just like those people in Patna,captured in a similar frame, he says. In a collage titled,I Am Beloveds and Beloved Is Mine,Aharoni has interposed six such photographs of strangers with excerpts from the letters.
The highlight of the show is the artists work in phulkari. Rich orange and red fabric with golden embroidery is mounted on original wooden looms on the walls of the room. Aharoni is drawn to the phulkari and the tradition behind the fabric. On a visit to an old market in Delhi,I learnt how to make a phulkari shawl from an adolescent girl who gifted it to her mother-in-law as dowry. This very shawl came rushing to my mind as I was reading the dreams of another adolescent girl,my mother.