Curious Treasures: Beirut-based design studio Bokja

Have you ever come across furniture with a personality? If you are in the presence of a BOKJA creation, you will know what I am talking about. In the Beirut-based design studio, elaborate aesthetic fantasies are brought to life through mosaic-like furniture and fashion, assembling various elements that happily coexist on the canvas. They are true conversation pieces, from the delicate dressing chair named Sawfar dressed in a ruffled printed skirt, to the beautiful Eames chair at the Bokja which wears textiles from places like Samarkand, Aleppo and Istanbul.

Founders Huda Baroudi and Maria Hibri are the design polymaths behind these customizable objects, which perfectly combine the values ​​of craftsmanship, care, passion and expertise to weave a multi-stranded narrative.

“BOKJA’s signature is its assemblage aesthetic,” explains Huda. He brings together textile fragments from a time and place and places them in unusual arrangements to communicate a unified message. The integrity of each piece is preserved as it is connected, layered and ultimately juxtaposed. »

From the “Sound of Music” collection.
Image Credit: Supplied

This joyous bringing together of disparate surfaces magnifies each component, creating a rich and unexpected visual language that blends the designer duo’s individual aesthetic vocabularies.

While Huda has spent her life collecting fabrics from the Silk Road, Maria is an expert in finding antiques. “The way we work together is like a pas de deux – it’s a dynamic interchangeable practice where we both build on each other’s ideas,” Huda shares.

BOKJA has expanded well into the stratosphere of design, having been part of coveted platforms like the Salone del Mobile in Milan (2008) and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, where he held a solo exhibition featuring his tapestries. Arab Fall and Arab Spring in 2012. Now it’s back this year for the third time at the coveted Dubai Design Week. “BOKJA has attended the fair twice in the past eight years and our experience has been significant each time. We had been planning for some time to participate in the fair again,” notes Maria.

“We now have representation in the Emirate and Dubai Design Week is the perfect platform to showcase our latest work,” she adds, referring to the fact that the brand is now available at the Mall’s CE Concept Store. of the Emirates. For the next iteration of Dubai Design Week, BOKJA is working on a deeply contemplative installation in the form of a boxing ring.

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Mashrabiya, artistic intervention by BOKJA.
Image Credit: Supplied

“We’re asking people to stop and start a conversation about some of today’s most pressing issues. Let’s talk about the weather, voice our opinions, and agree to disagree on a rambling assemblage of objects being lifted in a boxing ring,” Huda says.

It is a quintessential BOKJA creation that invites the viewer to engage and respond to big questions embodying global issues, such as climate change. Adorned with natural iconography on the brand’s signature textiles, the boxing ring will feature a surreal depiction of a punching bag, wrapped and loaded to signify the subjects at hand. A sketch shows that Einstein’s words, “Creativity is intelligence having fun” will mask the installation, accentuating its playful spirit.

“It evokes a cheerful, colorful vibe that belies the underlying seriousness of the issues we present,” notes Huda. She highlights the importance of platforms like Dubai Design Week for local creatives, as they provide the opportunity for dialogue between them and visitors. “Designers will certainly benefit beyond their attendance, as fairs create awareness and remember them if they play their cards right.”

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Eames chair at BOKJA.
Image Credit: Supplied

With an eye for scale, color and pattern, BOKJA offers a mixed bag of design that is satiating for a global audience and reflects the common thread between the creative palates of Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. “Many Lebanese designers have moved to the United Arab Emirates and are working with retailers here. There is an obvious synergy between the two countries that is so important. Dubai has become a melting pot of different cultures and the Lebanese design scene has always been open to world events. The two dance well together,” comments Maria. Huda and Maria have brought furniture to life that they salvage from antique shops and flea markets. “We collect obsessively,” says Huda. “We are constantly filtering through a surplus of old and new textiles from the region and around the world.” They are now part of the BOKJA archives which inform their fabric choices. “We begin by dissecting, warping and juxtaposing worn textiles and combining them with simpler fabrics, extracting snippets of patterns, textures and colors to dress found objects.” The resulting collections are a history book, crossed by an art gallery, crossed by a time machine, with pieces that often exceed their aesthetic legitimacy to testify to socio-political, humanitarian or environmental agencies. .

Among the brand’s artistic evocations is We Are Tyred (2012), a series of motor tires upholstered in an alluring assemblage of textiles. This alludes to a form of street protest in Lebanon, where the public shows their frustration by burning tires. “The use of textiles in this street intervention pacifies the political message while maintaining a poetic symbolism,” explains Maria. “It’s the essence of who we are and why we do what we do. Our country is a country of conflict and chaos where we are deeply rooted, and we believe this is our way of communicating and contributing, hoping to be heard, to provoke and to shed light.

Another example is the Migration sofa created exclusively for Salone del Mobile 2013. He carries rolled up rugs and bedding on his back with his drawer resembling a suitcase full of clothes, reflecting the experiment for which he is named. “The change in our aesthetic language happened in 2011 during the Arab Spring, when there was an upsurge of artisans emigrating to Lebanon,” shares Hoda. “Highly skilled embroiderers from Kurdistan, Iraq, Syria and Egypt have come to our doorstep looking for work. They came with their old machines, offering the industrious technique of hand-guided embroidery that resembled hand embroidery,” she explains. “Most of our growing team of craftsmen is made up of men. This is likely due to the hard work involved in operating the machines for long periods of time – a sort of gender-mixer, distorting the notion of an activity usually attributed to women.

The BOKJA studio then became a laboratory, exploring various embroidery techniques and drawing inspiration from archive textiles. “Through a participatory and slow process, we became familiar with the techniques offered by the artisans, using their potential to create contemporary works”, says Maria. Huda and Maria’s cultural output is also deeply rooted in personal interactions and experiences, such as the harrowing Beirut explosion of 2020 that sent shockwaves around the world.

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Installation of BOKJA at Dubai Design Week.
Image credit: Instagram @bokjadesign

“On August 4, 2020, our homes, workshop and gallery were badly damaged. Anger paralyzed us,” Huda recalls. “Our work saved us in more ways than one. We invested in repairing people’s damaged furniture. We tried to repair what the explosion destroyed in a second. We also produced the Silence collection because, for once, words failed us. After that came the Sound of Music because optimism is also a must.

Since its launch in 2000, BOKJA has quickly won international acclaim for its distinct creative spirit and message. Among his greatest achievements was working with New York-based ABC Carpet and Home in 2004, which provided them with the platform to showcase their work to global luminaries including Hillary Clinton, Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek and Kate. Hudson.

Now, BOKJA is working on its Spring-Summer 2023 collection, featuring wallpaper and a line of upholstery fabrics in the brand’s signature assemblage technique, all of which will follow the theme of fragility.

Huda shares, “For us, the future is now. As an engaged and actively responsive brand, we would like to create awareness about the issues we care about and continue to advocate for more mindfulness and empathy.

Joseph E. Golightly