Conversational chairsby Ronja Brown
How best to tell a story? How best to share a memory? Words? Pictures? Smell? Sound? Anyone who has seen any of Bokja’s exquisite pieces of upholstered furniture would, I’m sure, add textiles to this list. Across the Arab world, a bokja is an embellished textile wrapping to carry personal belongings. It is often used to hold a bride’s dowry – gifts from the women in her family wishing her a happy future. Fittingly, Bokja is also the name of Beirutbased surface fabrication studio, co-founded by Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri, in 2000.
Their signature approach has an international following – pieces of previously used fabric, each with its own history, carefully joined together and upholstered onto often classic pieces of furniture, which find themselves transformed from one life to the next by the unexpected, brilliant juxtapositions of colour, pattern, texture and surface . Each piece is a one-off and comes with its own passport, listing its name, ‘date of birth’ and description – the start of its new journey.
Baroudi and Hibri work with a wide range of local craftspeople, drawing on centuries of knowledge, often undocumented and passed down through first-hand experience. Each piece demands different skills and knowledge of the application of these in different sequences. Fundamentally and importantly, being involved in the realisation of a piece enables these specialist craftspeople to apply their knowledge and skills in a contemporary rather than a traditional context. In an interview published in Vogue Living in Nov/Dec 2010, Baroudi said, “We collaborate with artisans who use their hands, and our mission is to help those people and to make these handicrafts last.”
Part of Bokja’s raison d’être is exactly this - to breathe new life into tradition, particularly into Lebanon's traditional textiles, that are becoming increasingly disregarded, or seen as old fashioned. By rethinking and repositioning them, upcycling them and using them in new contexts, Bokja has enabled these textiles to take on new importance and relevance and become desirable to a range of audiences once again. This notion of moving on, and of journeys, transient societies and nomadic, or displaced peoples is epitomised in Bokja’s Migration series shown in Milan in 2013. In contrast to many of their patterned and brightly coloured pieces, in the Migration series they have used a more muted palette and many more utilitarian fabrics: jute, cottons, linens and webbing in place of lace, velvet and embellishment.
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