Who are Bokja?
Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri. We joined forces in 2000 and are both Lebanese designers who share a passion for the detail and history in ancient tapestries, textiles and antiques. The name is a Turkish word that describes an intricately worked fabric created to cover a bride’s dowry. We cover furniture designs from the '50s, '60s and '70s, unearthed in Beirut’s flea-markets with exuberant tapestries and textiles from the Levant and the legendary Silk Road countries of Central Asia.
What is your design practice about?
We try to combine ancient culture with re-purposed modern design. Bokja is about creating one-of-a-kind pieces that offer an explosion of color, pattern and a richly textured sense of history.
How did your new installation piece for the Phoenica hotel happen?
The Phoenicia Intercontinental was one of the most prestigious and iconic hotels of pre-war Beirut. After surviving all the conflict during the war, the hotel has risen again and regained its stature. Today it is celebrating its 50th Anniversary and our way of paying homage to its history and revival was to create this installation.
Inspired by Beirut’s glory days, we decided to present this cartographical portrayal that evokes a sentimental attachment to Lebanon’s most beloved cultural icons.
Lebanon’s three-dimensional map is hung as a punching bag, raw and vulnerable. The piece combines an upholstered iron frame made of Bokja assemblage together with various types of embroideries executed in our atelier.
The piece turns a critical eye towards our collective amnesia and our nostalgic yearning for the good old times while simultaneously expressing our inherent optimism and aspiration for the country.
Can you talk about some of the details?
The map is filled with history; it represents Beirut in the pre-war golden era and carries icons that affected Beirutis. Younger generations are also familiar with these figures through constantly listening to their elders reminiscing about those wonderful carefree times. We are proud of our heritage and proud of these figures that left a mark inside each one of us.
That beautiful lady with the mole on the cheek is Samira Tawfic, a great popular singer and actress from the era that has been influential up until today - her songs are still repeated and sung by the public, despite her absence from the artistic scene. Chouchou was a famous Lebanese comedian and singer, his plays are still shown and highly appreciated, almost 35 years after his passing. We've also shown the Lebanese Lira, maybe to suggest mourning its depreciation.
Every Beiruti dreams of those lost times, when the city was the Paris of the Middle East, where people were live a happy untroubled life. Every detail of this installation represents a moment from those glory days.
What's on the horizon for Bokja?
It looks optimistic. We're now preparing for an exhibition called The Arab Fall, taking place in Kuwait at the Sultan Gallery on 5th October this year. We're showing a series of globes and an installation, inspired by the wave of social and political developments now sweeping the Arab world. By presenting the globe series in different coloured upholstered designs we hope to show the region as the seething macrocosm of change that it is and to express the extent of its scope and diversity.
What's happening in Beirut right now?
Beirut’s region is undergoing some big changes in political and economic matters. We can only hope these changes will affect it positively. We believe in Beirut, we love Beirut, we trust Beirut.
What are you doing tonight?
Thanks Bokja xxx
Beirut cityscape photos by Sam Pilkington