Magic, Mysticism, and the Celebration of Nature in Bloom. An interview with Marta Borkowska and Martyna Golik, curators of this year’s Gdynia Design Days’ MANUBA collection.

MANUBA is a limited series of items created specifically for the Gdynia Design Days festival. This year, the collection is inspired by Slavic rituals. We speak with the curators, Marta Borkowska and Martyna Golik, about the concept behind the collection, the significance of rituals, traditions, and nature in the modern world, and how the design of this year’s MANUBA collection addresses contemporary needs.

Martyna Golik, Marta Borkowska
Martyna Golik, Marta Borkowska.

 Monika Juskwiak: Firstly, could you share the main goal of the MANUBA collection?

Martyna Golik, Marta Borkowska: It’s a collection of objects designed and produced  specifically for the Gdynia Design Days festival. The main idea is to bring together designers who devise a collection of three objects that relate to the theme chosen by the curator. Each object is produced in a limited edition of 30 pieces, later available for sale during the festival. For this year’s edition of MANUBA, we decided on the theme “Rytuał” (Ritual) inspired by the Kupała Night, a Slavic celebration of the summer solstice, which coincides with the festival.

MJ: This year’s theme for Gdynia Design Days is ‘Gdynia Zdrój’ (eng: Gdynia spa town). It emphasises regeneration, while the MANUBA collection centers around rituals. Could you explain how the festival theme is reflected in the collection, and how their respective themes intertwine?

MG, MB: Rituals allow us to stop in time, and become more grounded and mindful. They also invite us to celebrate communal day-to-day life in tune with nature. These elements, to our minds, pertain to the theme of Gdynia-Zdrój. Ideas of health and well-being, physical as well as mental, are reflected in both themes. The nature aspect was also crucial for us from the outset. We find the idea of Gdynia-Zdrój to be intrinsically connected with nature through the beautiful sea, meadows, and lush forests. While brainstorming the theme for this year’s MANUBA, we immediately thought of celebrating nature, hence the Kupała Night. 

MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024.
MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024, photo by Kaja Róg.

MJ: Tell me more about the symbols and inspirations for this year’s MANUBA collection.

MG, MB: While exploring the history of the Kupała Night, we came across different rituals connected to this celebration. Our Slavic ancestors used this shortest night of the year to foretell their love life and celebrate vitality and fertility. It was common to jump through a bonfire in order to ensure health and secure protection against evil forces. Another activity involved taking a bath in lakes or rivers. The most well-known tradition involves collecting flowers and fragrant herbs to braid into garlands, which were then placed on the water or thrown into the bonfire.

All these celebrations and the connection between human and nature were very inspiring for us. During the design process, we decided to structure our objects around three symbols: water, fire, and flowers/herbs. From the very beginning, it was also apparent for us that we would work with natural materials that are either recycled or that come from renewable sources. That is why we decided to work with clay, representing the water element, beeswax, which connects with fire, and linen, symbolising flowers/fibers.

Dawn, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024.
Dawn, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024, photo by Kaja Róg.

MJ: Can you discuss the significance of using beeswax, clay, fabric, and other natural materials in the collection design? How does this choice influence the overall ambiance of the collection?

MG, MB: The objective for the collection was to use as little new and processed materials as possible. In the world of abundance, we find beauty in using what we already have and giving new meanings to familiar things around us. Beeswax and clay are materials derived directly from nature with little human intervention. The beeswax used in the candles is a by-product of honey production from Ola Lewczyk’s grandad. The linen we used was sourced from the Wtórpol textile recycling plant and naturally dyed with onion skins collected by us. We wanted each of the products to have a handmade character: you will often find handmarks, slight variations in colours, and other unique features. This is both the intended effect and a result of the techniques used, such as hand embroidery, natural dyeing in the hair accessories, hand throwing and raku firing for the clay goblets, and hand-dipping in wax for the candles. All these features evoke a feeling of comfort, familiarity, and communion between us, the designers, and the users.

MJ: During the presentation of the collection’s concept, you mentioned that one of the inspirations was society’s urge to reconnect with local traditions and ceremonies. How does the collection’s design address this need?

MG, MB: Now more than ever we have access to information, culture, foods, and so on from faraway cultures. It is exciting to be able to learn about the world and we have been doing so in abundance. However, it seems that there is a counter-reaction to this phenomenon. Many people have the need to rediscover their own heritage and explore their roots in search for identity in this eclectic environment. Many of our strongest memories of our roots, home, and comfort connected with it are triggered while experiencing subtle things like smell or touch of something familiar. We wanted to incorporate these sensory elements into our products, hence the use of natural, locally sourced materials and our attention to tactility. We wanted the objects to somehow feel familiar to the user as if they knew them from their childhood.

Twilight, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024.
Twilight, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024, photo by Kaja Róg.

MJ: Why do you think modern audiences will connect with the themes of magic, mysticism, and nature celebrated in your collection? 

MG, MB: We believe that we as human beings are naturally drawn to things unexplainable and magical. In this very down-to-earth and practical society we live in, where everything is explained by science and we can get answers to everything in a matter of seconds, this attraction seems to grow even greater. That’s why we felt that the element of magic in our collection would be appealing to the recipients.

MJ: The recent promotional spot, along with Daria Szczygieł’s sunny, dreamlike photo session, radiates subtlety. Collaborations with Ola Lewczyk and Karolina Zimnicka highlight female teamwork. Do you agree that this collection is designed for women?

MG, MB: We work instinctively and use our intuition to guide us through the process. Everything, from our decision to work together and our choice of collaborators to the design of the products, stems from that. We had no conscious intention to create a female-centered collection; the celebration of femininity came naturally. Our collection is addressed to everybody interested in exploring beauty, purity of materials, and craftsmanship. We leave it up to you to decide whether you use the objects yourself or gift them to someone dear to you.

Night, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024.
Night, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024, photo by Kaja Róg.

MJ: The collection is designed by you, Ola Lewczyk and Karolina Zimnicka. Can you describe you collaboration process?

MG, MB: We come from different places so the design process was to a large extent happening online, though not entirely. After deciding on the general ideas for each of the objects, we met in person for a creative workshop where we had the opportunity to discuss and work intensively, giving the collection a defined direction. We then continued to add the final touches, communicating online again. There has been a very close collaboration among us throughout the entire process.

MJ: What do you hope visitors will take away from experiencing the MANUBA collection at the Gdynia Design Days?

MG, MB: We hope that people visiting the MANUBA exhibition will have a chance to slow down a little, breathe, and remember to enjoy every moment. Of course, we also hope that they will find beauty in the collection and decide to take a piece of it with them.

Thank you! 

Night, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024.
Night, MANUBA collection, Gdynia Design Days 2024, photo by Kaja Róg.

MANUBA GDD collection available stationary and online: from 22-30 June in building III of PPNT Gdynia, next to the INFO point and from 24 June-31 July in the online shop.

About The Author


She's a freelance Creative, Art Writer, and Project Manager with a keen interest in exploring the intersection of art, culture, and neuroscience. Holding a BA in Ethnolinguistics, an MA in Visual-mediation communication, and a degree from Wielkopolska School of Photography. She is the founder of Nebula, a neuroaesthetic-coated art and curatorial project.

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