Headrest supported by standing female figure

Lulua peoples
late 19th or early 20th century
more object details

General Description

African "pillows" are traditionally made of wood, ivory, or fired clay. The basic form of two platforms separated by a vertical post is consistent throughout Africa, from Egypt to South Africa, and throughout time, from antiquity to the present. Still used, this "pillow" is called a headrest because of the way it is used. While reclining on one's back or side, an individual places the upper platform at the back of the head. Alternatively, the platform can be placed under one ear and along the chin to support the head. In addition to protecting elaborate hairstyles, headrests provide a good night's sleep because the pressure of the headrest slightly numbs the nerves in the head resulting in a tranquilizing effect. Sculptors decorated the vertical posts in different ways.

The vertical post of this Lulua headrest is carved in the form of a standing female figure whose face and body are elaborately decorated with low-relief scarification. The female caryatid on this example stands firmly on oversized feet and supports the platform on her head. Her hands are placed at the sides of her body as if to draw attention to her prominent navel.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 228, 231.