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Celebrating the indigenous crafts of Nagaland in interior design

  • Ideas & Inspiration
Oct 31, 2023

Bridging the past and present, using contemporary styles with traditional technique, Aku Zeliang is continuing his mother Jasmina’s legacy of bringing the northeast of India to global attention

The remarkable textiles and traditional handicrafts from the Northeast need no introduction. In an age of global homogenization, the importance of reviving and celebrating local crafts cannot be overstated. It is an endeavour that goes beyond mere aesthetics; it is an investment in the preservation of culture and the empowerment of local artisans. In Dimapur Jesmina Zeliang is a legend who founded Heirloom Naga, a textile studio and social organisation almost 25 years ago. Not just facilitating the employment and empowerment to local women, with its contemporary styling and traditional roots the brand found favour at boutiques across the world. Taking her legacy forward, Aku Zeliang, the eldest son of the entrepreneur, founded Cane Concept and Urra Design.

 

We spoke to the interior and product designer about his experiences in the art of amalgamating local crafts into interior design. Aku's portfolio showcases the exquisite beauty of indigenous crafts, ranging from intricate woodwork to vibrant textiles. His ability to seamlessly weave these crafts into modern interior settings is a testament to his mastery and his unwavering dedication to preserving the cultural riches of his homeland, seen in his latest project for a Korean cosmetic company, Beauty Barn’s Glam Room in Dimapur, Nagaland. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Beautiful Homes: How do local crafts guide the design approach of your projects?

Aku Zeliang: I feel very strongly about showcasing the creativity, craftsmanship and skill that our local artisans are gifted with and hence, I try to imbibe them in all my projects. I am at a point where I almost feel responsible to represent and promote our local crafts through the original designs we create consciously. The idea is to express traditional crafts in a contemporary and relatable narrative.

 

BH: According to you, which local materials are ideal to work with?

AZ: I believe in using materials that are readily available in our backyards. To that end, different species of timber, bamboo, cane and reed are great options to work with.

Aku Zeliang, Founder of Cane Concept and Urra Design.

BH: What is your point of inspiration?

AZ: For inspiration, I am constantly looking at the colours, forms and motifs that are specific to many of our tribal communities. For my new upcoming collection of furniture, I studied the colours and patterns of jewellery. 

Beauty Barn’s Glam Room for a Korean cosmetic company.

The bench and Ming Yoke chair from Wisteria in Beauty Barn’s Glam Room corresponds to the theme of the space.

BH: How do you blend local crafts in a home designed with modern sensibilities?

AZ: While designing any space I make sure that the interior is designed in accordance with the craft we want to display or create special spaces to display certain craft products. It could be a piece of art, lighting, furniture or soft furnishings.

 

BH: Are there any décor items or collections you are sentimental about?

AZ: I am very attached to some of our older designs, which literally sparked new beginnings in our regional craft scenario. The tasseled cushions for instance, which my mother’s brand Heirloom Naga brought into origin and lately, the series of bamboo artwork that we have created are some of them.

BH: Are clients from outside the northeast also willing to incorporate traditional crafts in their homes?

AZ: I completely believe in the idea of celebrating diversity through design. I can also see a revival of traditional practices across India finding a permanent place once again, a renaissance period that we are going through. So yes, collaborations between regions and practices must be encouraged.

The dressing area at Beauty Barn’s Glam Room.

The cabinet from Cane Concept is crafted with wood and bamboo weave.

BH: The wardrobe in the Beauty Barn’s Glam Room showcases a typical design woven with bamboo strands. Is there any particular significance to that pattern?

AZ: The wardrobe is my interpretation of the women's tattoo motifs. I had initially designed a series of bamboo wall art to give the wardrobe a very original and outstanding look. We wove the tattoo pattern to fit the paneling of the wardrobe and resized the motifs to make it more pronounced.

 

In the realm of interior design, local crafts are the embodiment of cultural heritage, telling stories of communities and traditions that have withstood the test of time. Their significance lies not only in their aesthetic appeal but also in the preservation of craftsmanship that often teeters on the precipice of obscurity. Keeping the cultural legacy alive, Aku and his mother Jesmina Zeliang craft a sense of authenticity, heritage, and identity to home interiors.

Bamboo weave chair designed by Cane Concept.
Tasseled cushions by Heirloom Naga.
A set of circular lights enhance the dressing area.
The sofa in the living room is a remake of Isamu Noguchi's free form sofa made by Cane Concept, side table from 29 Imports, coffee table from Republic Home and chandelier from Olie Lights.
The wardrobe design is Aku's interpretation of the women's tattoo motifs.
A vase adorns the bench from Wisteria.

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