all photos by the author, except where otherwise noted

In 1980, Roy Sieber's exhibition “African Household and Furniture Objects” (Sieber 1980) first drew attention to the “functional art” objects of Africa, including wooden headrests and stools. Since then, this category of artifact has gradually drawn more interest among ethnic art lovers, collectors, and researchers, although still in modest dimensions.

European explorers and travellers in Africa collected headrests since at least the mid-nineteenth century (Nettleton 2007:100–101). Headrests and stools are, of course, not confined to Africa alone (Dewey et al. 1993), but have seen a particularly rich and varied development there and are found among many ethnic groups (see also Falgeyrettes 1989). In the past decade or so, the new focus on headrests has led to several major exhibitions in African art museums or ethnology museums and to a spate of websites of traders...

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