NY, United States
Shona Headrest - Zimbabwe
Masterful execution and a host of fine details distinguish this beautiful, classically composed Shona headrest. The crisp, densely bundled features at the heart of the support showcase the carver’s marvelous care and strength of design. Pairs of elegant, tessellated triangle motifs, placed point to point, adorn the top surface, echoing the abundant triangular and zigzag shapes found in the central body of the rest. Warm highlights accentuate every feature of this rest and play subtly over its dark, handsome patina.
The traditional circular motifs carved into this rest have been discussed by many scholars, and their symbolism is deeply connected with images and metaphors of the female. They may allude to female scarification marks (myora) and ndoro shells, calling to mind the ancestors (mudzimu/mhondoro) and the women who guarantee fertility. Alternatively, they may suggest breasts, or perhaps the concentric ripples caused by a stone dropped into a body of water. Further references to the female are found in the form of the rest’s base, composed of two round, swelling disks joined by a triangular pubis.
Ubiquitous in southern African societies, headrests were prized and revered as indispensable items, not only for their protection of carefully maintained coiffures during sleep but also in their spiritual role as conduits of communication with ancestor spirits.
Late 19th century
6” w 5 1/4” h
Provenance: Jonathan Lowen, London; Graham Beck, South Africa