Zulu Headrest - South Africa

This impressive headrest features a rectangular rest supported by four sinuous legs, each of which touches the ground in two places. Employing a technique common in large wood vessels from Zulu territory (see example below), the legs are laboriously carved with ridges over the entirety of their serpentine surface, delivering dramatic aesthetic impact.

Headrests were important and ubiquitous objects in southern Africa, used not only to preserve high-maintenance coiffures during sleep but to facilitate communication with ancestors through dreams. In cultures where personal effects were often few and one traveled lightly, headrests were some of the only sizable objects that served as permanent possessions, and they were often passed down through generations as valued heirlooms. Brides often commissioned paired headrests, one for themselves and one for their bridegroom. The headrest that formed a pair with the piece presented here is now part of the Brenthurst Collection at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Zulu, South Africa
19th century
L 16.25” H 6”
Ex Arthur Thomas Todd-White; Jonathan Lowen; Kevin Conru

Published in Belgium Collects African Art, Brussels, 2000; The Art of Southeast Africa, 2008
Exhibited at Rotterdam Kunsthalle, 1999
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