Utah-based Lebanese American artist Pamela El Gergi with her tufting gun (all images courtesy the artist, all photos Bianca Velasquez/Hyperallergic)

SALT LAKE CITY — A sweeping reclamation of traditional craftsmanship is taking place around the world, with artists forming communities around their uses of stained glass, jewelry, beading, and textiles. Seemingly unapproachable crafts (because of restricted access to supplies or apprenticeship), such as rug-making and stained glass, have benefited from modernized and simplified techniques and technologies that make practicing these trades more accessible, creating a surge of independent creators who work at their own pace and through their own lens.

With this uptick in artisans comes a wider range of perspectives and backgrounds able to be expressed through mediums that have previously had high barriers to entry. Among the new voices is Lebanese rug maker Pamela El Gergi, who creates her works under her business name Habibi Bazaar.

Having relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah from Beirut, Lebanon in 2018, El Gergi felt an urge to keep an open connection to her hometown, which she found through the traditional craft of rug-making. El Gergi articulates how the imagery in her rug designs keeps her in touch with her Lebanese roots: “Habibi Bazaar uses my own personal style, which is Oriental rugs, evil eyes (Nazar), patterns that you would see in churches and mosques in Lebanon,” she told Hyperallergic in an interview.

Pamela El Gergi adds her voice to the tradition of Oriental rug-making

And while she applies her voice and background to rug-making in the US, El Gergi creates a new dialogue within traditional rug-making in Lebanon. “I’ve taken these vintage, older styles of Oriental rugs, and now I’m trying to make them more centered around Lebanese culture,” she said. “We don’t have much Lebanese representation within Oriental rugs.” El Gergi is met with curiosity as she collaborates with Lebanese illustrators to accomplish her contemporary approach to traditional rug-making.

Instead of using a traditional loom, El Gergi applies a modern technique and uses a tufting gun. “The length of time to create each rug varies on the complexity and size of the design. For example, my oriental rugs take approximately 8–12 working hours to create,” she explained. While this more DIY approach can seem like a shortcut, her process is still arduous and meticulous.

Example of Pamela El Gergi’s evil eye rug (2022)

After finalizing her design, El Gergi projects and traces the outline onto her canvas, then uses the tufting gun to apply the yarn accordingly. After applying the carpet glue and backing to the other side of the fabric, she moves on to the final step. “I spend hours on each rug, shaving it properly and carving out the designs (or ‘sculpting’ the rug). I finish it all with vacuuming, lint rolling, and doing one last quality check,” she said.

El Gergi is currently working on a rug collection in collaboration with her peer Samantha Nader who has created seven Oriental designs based on El Gergi’s concepts. “What makes this collection significant to me is the specific flower that is included in the design. This flower is printed on Lebanese coffee cups, and when you drink Arabic coffee, the grounds are collected at the bottom,” El Gergi said. “Then you flip the cup over, and you let the grounds fall along the sides. After letting it sit for five minutes, it reveals a pattern that tells your fortune.” Like the featured flowers or the Arabic references, El Gergi’s pieces tend to use this medium to shed light on her experience as a Lebanese woman, as well as pay homage to and honor the cultural symbolism that has been passed down through her family for generations. 

Creating cultural ties between Lebanon and the US does not stop at rug-making for El Gergi. Habibi Bazaar also kicked off a pronoun shirt campaign in collaboration with Mexican artist Alethia Lunares, who designed the t-shirt graphic. “I always put my pronouns as  ‘she, her, habibi,” said El Gergi. “I was so annoyed at the anti-pronoun discourse that I decided to put it on a t-shirt.” She produced three different shirts saying “She, Her, Habibi”, “They, Them, Habibi,” and “He, Him, Habibi.” El Gergi’s decision to include the term “Habibi,” which translates into a non-gendered way of saying “my love,” allows her to incorporate a little bit of her culture into the campaign.

One of Habibi Bazaar’s pronoun shirts, produced in collaboration with Alethia Lunares (pictured)

This year, Habibi Bazaar has been accepted to the 14th Annual Craft Lake City DIY Festival Utah’s “largest local-centric art, music, science, and technology festival.” Not only has she been accepted as a vendor, she was also chosen to be sponsored through the Craft Lake City Artisan Scholarship Mentor Program, allowing her to be mentored by a more tenured local business owner through the entire process of tabling at a large event. 

Pamela El Gergi, 2022

“Everything that I’m going to be selling will be colorful as fuck,” she says of her booth which will include her rugs, pottery, stickers, wall hanging, mirrors, and more. As El Gergi moves forward with Habibi Bazaar, she hopes to evolve the brand through a range of products to further share her culture and voice. Most importantly, El Gergi hopes to continue finding contemporary ways to pass down traditional Lebanese crafts to future generations.

Bianca Velasquez is a Salt Lake City native who has been involved with the arts and music community for over a decade. Velasquez is currently the Managing Editor for SLUG Magazine, a local arts, music,...