Standing proudly and with smiling with confidence, a young prince faces his public. Behind him, three disparate objects act like monuments in a public square. The prince is ready to make an important declaration. What he will say is a mystery, but his strong countenance and optimistic gaze indicate that the ancestors have given their blessings and good fortune awaits.
This subtly lit tableau integrates four objects from four distinct African cultures. In the background lies a terra-cotta vessel crafted by the Batwa People of Burundi. To its left is a wooden headrest carved by the Zulu People of South Africa. By cultural tradition, the headrest is frequently offered by a bride to the bridegroom as a vehicle for communication with Zulu ancestors. On the lower right lies a milk pail from the Nyankore People of Uganda. The statue in the foreground is from the Benin People of Nigeria. In Benin culture, the title “Oba” (King) is passed on to the firstborn son at the time of the older Oba’s death. During this transfer of power, the first obligation for the new Oba, is to commemorate his father with a portrait cast in bronze.
REFERENCES: 1- Bishop, S.D. 1986. African Headrests. Scholar.ufs.ac.za. Johannesburg Art Gallery. 1991. 2- Art and Ambiguity: Perspectives on the Brenthurst Collection of Southern African Art. Johannesburg: Johannesburg Art Gallery. 3- Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2021. “Head of an Oba.” New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 4- Nettleton, Anitra. 2007. African Dream Machines: Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.