The potters of Bkerzay
Shouf conser vation project Bkerzay preser ves the cultural and natural heritage of the region. Its founder Ramzi Salman shares his vision for the future of ar tisan work in Lebanon
Located in the heart of the Shouf, within luscious green lands covered with old olive trees, wild pine forests and endangered flora indigenous to Lebanon that stretch over 200,000m2, is Bkerzay. Founded by Ramzi Salman, the conservation project is helping to revive the tradition of pottery and also preserve the area’s rich natural habitat. Af ter acquiring the land in 2009, Bkerzay began producing pottery in 2011 with two artists who produce ceramics on site – Egyptian master potter Ahmad Deif and Lebanese architect and potter Maha Nasrallah. “[Bkerzay has] evolved into a preser vation project. We wanted to preser ve not only the nature, but also [suppor t] people; encouraging the rural [residents] and craf tsmen,” says Salman. “There are ar tisans in the vicinity but unfor tunately they were vanishing. In order to reinitiate [potter y] we introduced ar t. So [we make] not just the traditional potter y, but [also] ar tistic potter y.” The ceramic bowls – contemporar y colorful designs of minimal trees, peacocks and var ious patterns all made with traditional techniques – have become a Bkerzay trademark and are sold around Beirut from the shop at the American University of Beirut’s archeological museum ( 01 350000/2660) to Mar Mikhael’s Zawal ( 01 444110). Visitors can see Bkerzay’s two resident potters working on site and even take workshops themselves. Salman is passionate about preser ving the countr y’s ar tisan traditions, but Bkerzay ar tisans work on their evolution by marr ying it with ar t, rather than keeping it in a static state. “We believe that we should network together and give new life [to the craf t], not only to preser ve what’s old but to renew it and give it new blood,” he says. “This is not a project just limited to a specific geographical location, it’s a concept. We have plans for a big outlet in Beirut. We hope to network with other projects of this sor t.” In May 23-24, Bkerzay held an event to showcase their new potter y collection and their commitment to pushing forward the craf t in Lebanon is also clear from the yearly potter y festival they hold each fall that gathers potters from all over Lebanon. With numerous initiatives in the works, Bkerzay is fast-becoming a spr ingboard for developing the countr y’s ar tisan craf ts and promoting the products of the Shouf region. Bkerzay are also dedicated to preser ving their natural surroundings, producing the fruits of their lands, such as honey, olive oil, soap and herbs, thus giving locals the opportunity to work in their region. They are also currently developing bio plantations to produce organic fruit and vegetables. And with guesthouses, an ar tist’s house and an exhibition center designed by Nasrallah, soon to be built, they are fur ther transforming Bkerzay into a destination, from which visitors can enjoy the natural environment and local craf ts.
Potter and architect Maha Nasrallah