Speaker: Ghiora Aharoni

Art as Physical and Ephemeral Sacred Space

Ghiora Aharoni is an artist and designer whose work is centrally premised on humankind’s interconnected existence, as well as a nonlinear concept of time. Descriptively, his work is at the “intersection of art, design and architecture.”  Experientially, his work is the soul’s conscious expansiveness across time.

Aharoni’s own faith is foundational to his creativity, but his explorations and creations are not limited to any one religious belief, culture or medium.  Instead, his artwork frequently expresses an interest in exploring dualities, such as the intersection of religion and science, and the intertwined relationships of seemingly disparate cultures. Much of his work involves text, traditional objects or symbols—such as cultural artifacts or sacred texts—that have been recontextualized and imbued with meaning that asks the viewer to question or reconsider their conventional social/cultural significance.  

An Israeli-born descendent of Yemeni Jews, Aharoni grew up near Tel Aviv, and his grandfather introduced him to the central texts of Jewish mysticism at an early age. At 21, he left Israel to study at the City University of New York where he graduated summa cum laude from the Spitzer School of Architecture, and later went on to receive a Master of Architecture from Yale University.

In 2004, he opened Ghiora Aharoni Design Studio  to “engage with all the disciplines” he adores. The studio’s work encompasses interior design, art, product design and museum exhibitions. The design principles that govern his studio are “guided by the tenets of gesamtkunstwerk—engaging multiple disciplines to create a total work of art.”

Every year, Aharoni, takes a month-long sabbatical. He always travels with an amulet in his bag that belonged to his great-grandmother, and usually goes to India, where spiritual practices co-exist with architecture in a similar juxtaposition as his art and design. In India, he says the ancient resides within the urban center and one can time travel by walking a few hundred yards.

"In much of Aharoni’s work," it has been said, "the unification of multiple narratives offers an exquisite commentary on the potential of human life in a celestial universe – whether it be Indian and Jewish, divinity and humanity, or the natural and industrial materials integrated in his design work in the form of walnut and steel. To paraphrase Aharoni, ultimately there is an expansive vitality, which springs from intercultural co-existence, and an unending dynamic process that resonates in both divine and mortal existence."

Aharoni’s work is in the permanent collection of the Pompidou Center in Paris, The Vatican Library in Rome, The Beit Hatfutsot Museum in Tel Aviv, The Kiran Nadar Museum in New Delhi and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York—as well as numerous private collections in North America, Europe, Israel and India.

In February of this year, Aharoni was the Artist-in-Residence at the India Art Fair in Delhi, and his sculptures were on view at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam from March through August 2019 in the exhibition Kabbalah: The Art of Jewish Mysticism. In February 2019 he was invited to present a solo artist project at the India Art Fair in New Delhi that explored cultural interconnectivity via sculptures and works on paper, some of which included Hindru© (a phrase-based melding of Hindi and Urdu he created in 2016). In 2018, his work was exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, Austria.

From November 2017 through October 2018, Aharoni’s solo exhibition, The Road to Sanchi, was on view at the Rubin Museum in New York. Aharoni traveled to four different pilgrimage sites (Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, and Jewish) throughout India to create the art for The Road to Sanchi, which invite viewers “to question our relationship to time and imagine a world where past, present, and future can exist simultaneously.” The sacred sites are never seen so the work becomes a pilgrimage for the viewer, an expression of India’s history of cultural plurality, a co-mingling of sacred and secular, and a focus on the act and action of pilgrimage for the benefit of one’s future self.

In 2017, his work was selected for the Jerusalem Biennale. Aharoni also added two works to his eight-part series Menorah Project, the Antiochus Scroll Menorah and Paradesi Menorah. The work represents the core values of respect and advocacy, intercultural understanding and the “narrative of victory over oppression” which Aharoni characterizes as “our obligation to defend cultural freedom and to engender light in a time of darkness,” as well as, “the responsibility of the individual in the role of social vigilance.”

In 2016 in conjunction with the Biennale, two of his sculptures were exhibited in Divided Waters, a group exhibition of international contemporary art at the Palazzo Fontana in Venice, Italy, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice. In the spring of 2016, Aharoni was commissioned to create a public art installation—a series of stainless steel sculptures of Hebrabic/Arabrew© (a combination of Hebrew and Arabic that he conceived in 1999 while at Yale)—at the New York Live Arts Performance Center in Chelsea. In May of 2012, he was commissioned to create a large-scale art installation at the 14thStreet Y in Manhattan of Hebrabic/Arabrew© entitled, The Divine Domesticated. Four panels from the installation were permanently installed that fall in the theater lobby of the Y.

Missives, Aharoni’s first solo exhibition in India, opened the Fall 2013 season at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, India. Inspired by the discovery of a trove of his mother’s love letters written as an adolescent in Israel, the artworks and installations included collages with reproductions of his mother’s letters and his drawings, installations of vintage photographs with the letters, and antique Phulkaris embroidered with snippets of her letters. The exhibition reflects the confluence/fluidity of time, universal notions of desire and collective memory, as well as his love for India. 

Aharoni’s designs and commissioned pieces are also in numerous private collections. Since establishing his studio, Aharoni has designed many residential and commercial projects in New York—ranging from the DeKooning residence and a duplex penthouse in a landmark building in the West Village to a storefront studio/performance space in Williamsburg and the offices of an art law firm on 57th Street.

Aharoni’s work has been published internationally in books—most recently in The Word is Art from Thames & Hudson—as well as newspapers, journals and magazines including The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Elle Decor U.K., L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Architectural Digest Spain, Art India, IDEAT, Elle Decor Italia and New York Magazine. His essay proposing the displacement of Jerusalem’s monuments was included in the book “The Next Jerusalem.”

Prior to opening his own studio, Aharoni worked at several distinguished architectural firms including Polshek Partnership [now known as Ennead Architects] and Studio Daniel Libeskind. While at Polshek Partnership, he worked on the design for Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall; the space planning and design of The American Museum of Natural History’s subterranean entrance and public spaces; as well as the space planning of The New York Botanical Garden’s Museum Building. His design work for Studio Daniel Libeskind included the competition submission for The Ground Zero World Trade Center Design Study, and the façade design for Hyundai Development Company, Seoul, Korea. In addition, Aharoni was on the winning design competition team with Zaha Hadid and Arata Isozaki for the building and urban planning of Milan, Italy’s Fiera Convention Center.

Of his designs and art, one sculpture that is particularly stirring, timeless and relevant today is “Parting Waters”— a sculpture that Aharoni completed a few years ago just before Passover. It was inspired by the biblical story of Exodus and the current-day Syrian and African refugees. Descriptively, “Parting Waters” is composed of wooden crates containing slender-necked beakers used to test if milk was diluted with water in the mid-20th century. Had the beakers been filled with diluted milk, the water would have risen into the necks, forming columns of water—an allegory of Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, representing both the Israelites’ and contemporary refugees’ journey, “the universal human desire for freedom and the leap into the unknown.” Experientially, Parting Waters transports the viewer’s soul into that compassionate space bridging past, present and future where faith is foundational to creation.

His work will be exhibited later this year in the Asia Society Triennial in New York.  

Join us in conversation with this gifted creator of sacred containers and spaces for the divine!

Amir Hussain

Amir Hussain

Mar 28, 2020

Nonviolence in Islam

Shabnam Virmani

Shabnam Virmani

Nov 24, 2018

Transcending Identity Through Poetry and Music

Mickey Lemle

Mickey Lemle

Jul 2, 2016

Telling Moving Stories About Human Transformation