Luba Caryatid Headrest - D.R. Congo

Famous for their skill in figural sculpture, Luba artists often trained their talents for human representation upon another tradition that spans the African continent: the creation of beautiful headrests. Luba women adorned themselves with elaborately designed coiffures, visually striking and painstakingly prepared, and headrests protected them from damage during sleep. Such hairstyles can often be seen portrayed in headrest sculptures themselves, with kneeling figures sporting angular, backward-swept coiffures, most notably the multi-tiered “cascade” style.

Luba headrest figures cover a wide spectrum of stylization, from the naturalistic to the abstract. The present headrest bears the influence of both styles. While the overall figure is clearly recognizable, the structure has been reduced to rudimentary forms. Facial features are presented in simple shapes, arms take the form of bent tubes, folded legs disappear indistinctly beneath the figure. A stylized coiffure, notched above the forehead and at the fringes, projects straight backward in a horizontal, dual-tier configuration. The figure kneels on a round dais that is embellished with a band of overlapping hatch marks.

The densest area of detail is found on the figure’s torso, which bears a group of conspicuous scarification designs. Luba women decorated their bodies with carefully applied patterns of keloid scars, some of which were extensive and quite elaborate, as this figure demonstrates. Gained through physical ordeal, these patterns were permanent emblems of prestige, strength, power, and sexuality.

Late 19th century
5 ¾” h
- John J. Klejman, New York
- Faith-Dorian and Martin Wright Collection, New York, acquired from the above on October 11, 1967
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