Statement Pieces: Wood Carvings from Nagaland
A Centuries-Old Tradition
The rich tradition of wood carving in Nagaland, in north-east India, brings us back to a lost culture of big-scale wooden artworks found on gateways to houses or villages. The carving is decorated with familiar symbols like bison horns or fertility icons. The complexity of the wood carvings exemplifies the status and power of the house or village’s owner. Wood carving also plays a crucial role in daily life in Nagaland: from kitchen and tableware to items of furniture, they are all carved out of local wood.
Only men carry out this tradition. In the past, all tribesmen were expected to learn the art of wood carving from a young age. Now it is often left to expert craftsmen, who do it professionally.
A New Touch
What is particularly unique about this wood carving technique is that each final product is made out of a massive piece of wood, or even a full tree trunk. It is a slow and extremely precise process where, as it were, pots and trays are born out of the wood. Each item is carved by hand, which gives it its unique texture, inherent to Indian wood carving traditions. Forget sleek and clean, these items are raw, robust and real.
"The imperfect surfaces are inviting to the touch: you can feel the creator’s touch from top to bottom."
The creations are made out of Bam sung or Naga wood, which is processed using traditional tools like the Dao machete, hammer and chisel. The wood used differs from tree to tree, and depends on the size and age of the tree. This means that each family or tribe – including the Konyak, Phom, Ao, Lhota, Sema, Chang, Rengma, Angami, Zemi, Tangkhul and Kabuji – sets to work with different wood and stores it in various ways. For example, when the wood is stored in the kitchen it acquires a darker and more weathered look. In this way, each piece tells a different story.