Get to know the one-of-a-kind, layered and lovely Beirut furniture atelier Bokja


Heirloom-Quality Stories

By Audrey Kadjar

"Beirut is a complex patchwork of different people with divergent ideological views," says Huda Baroudi, who, along with her partner Maria Hibri, founded Beirut-based design and craft atelier Bokja in 2000. "The richness of our city's atmosphere is clearly represented in our work. The country itself is positioned between the east and the west, the old and the new, with issues of identity and impermanence always bubbling to the surface. The most rewarding aspect of our operation is allowing for our local stories to travel and be shared with a wider audience."

For more than a decade now, Huda and Maria have built an international following that's dedicated to their collage-style aesthetic and emphasis on artisanal heritage. By marrying Middle Eastern textile remnants to vintage modernist forms, the atelier has become a powerful design voice at the leading edge of the global trends like upcycling, revitalizing local craft traditions, and creating design with a message.  Their exhibition Arabic Seasons by Bokja (2012-2013), for instance, at the cultural center Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris questioned the international shift that followed on the heels of the Arab Spring. More recently, their participation in this year’s Beirut Design Week explored issues of urbanization.

We're excited that Huda and Maria are taking over our Instagram this week. To celebrate, we're offering up a Q&A with these two intelligent, thoughtful, and beautiful women. Take a peek into their colorful world!

 

Audrey Kadjar: When and how did you create Bokja? What are Bokja’s roots?

Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri: We were introduced through a mutual friend because we shared a passion for textiles and second-hand, vintage furniture pieces. Quite serendipitously we ended up working together. After the success of our first collection, Bokja came to be.

From the beginning we were collectors, adopting textile pieces primarily from Central Asia and Middle East. We were so enthralled by the handmade works of the embroiders found along the Silk Road—their steadfast pace when manipulating a textile, their use of color and pattern, and their intensely personal connection to the objects they created. In parallel, we were confronted and enchanted by the immaculate precision of European and American objects-makers from the midcentury; their alchemist ability to morph material and to mass-produce identicals in large quantities. We continue to live in between these two shockingly different worlds and strive to bring these two languages together in our pieces.

We live between these shockingly different worlds and strive to bring these languages together in our pieces. Inside the Bokja atelier Photo © Bokja and Aia Atoui AK: Tell us about the origin of your name, Bokja.

HB & MH: "Bokja" is a word of Turkish origin meaning a bundle or a piece of fabric that is used to wrap one’s personal, treasured belongings—especially dowries. A typical bokja is hand embroidered by different members of the family. The word has been adopted and reiterated through the Middle East, yet it retains its associations to heirloom textiles. The Bokja workshop aims to continue a similar act of storytelling through textiles, preserving a local textile tradition while redefining it in a contemporary voice.

AK: Bokja is known for the intricate, laborious design work that can be seen each and every piece. Tell us more about your making process.

HB & MH: Through trade and travel, we gather colors, patterns, and ideas. This foraging and collecting of interesting textiles is an important part of our work; it serves as a source of inspiration as well as the physical base for our creations. Once collected, we assemble the fragments spontaneously, stitching them together collectively with our team of specialized artisans. The layering process is continuous until the new textile becomes like a new skin for the body of the furniture.

AK: How do you find makers, designers, and artisans that you work with? What are the key qualities you are looking for?

HB & MH: Our atelier is composed of a group of very talented craftsmen and women from the region. Bokja’s artisans come from countries as varied as Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan, Egypt, and of course Lebanon, and each brings a unique set of traditional textile skills used for the creation of unique pieces. Our team has grown organically through an existing network of embroiderers, with one friend bringing another and so forth. We mainly look for work ethic, commitment, and a strong sense of curiosity.

AK: On the occasion of the most recent Beirut Design Week, which was themed "Design and the City," you organized a series of  "squatting" events throughout the city. How did you choose this theme, and how did the visitors respond?

HB & MH: We were attracted to the theme of squatting for a few reasons. We felt it was important to highlight the many underutilized spaces in Beirut and promote a dialogue about the preservation of our city's abandoned historic buildings. Also, when we started out, we were squatters; we managed all of our operations in an abandoned palace for a few years.

AK: Could you imagine the brand expanding to other locations and using traditions and networks outside Lebanon?

HB & MH: Bokja seeks to expand its horizons through collaborations with exciting and relevant studios and individuals. This will allow us to strengthen our textile knowledge base and find new exciting opportunities. Collaboration is everything. There is a need to further a culture of collaboration and convergence between people of different fields and designers themselves.

AK: What’s next for Bokja?

HB & MH: The same thing we do every night—try to take over the world!

 

  • Text by

    • Audrey Kadjar

      Audrey Kadjar

      Born in the US to a French family, Audrey grew up in multiple countries. Before landing at Pamono, she studied art history in London and worked in the cultural industry. When she's not perfecting French translations, she can be found writing for various publications, working on her experimental zine, or pursuing art and photography projects.

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