Arts of Africa
ART OF PRESENTING GENDER
Art can play a role in articulating and enacting gender identities, both openly and more subtly.
This stool and figure display their respectively male and female bodily sexual characteristics quite directly. The stool would have been used by a Lobi man of high status, with its phallic “foot” protruding to convey his virility and authority. The figure, dedicated to the Yoruba cult of Shango, the orisha (god) of thunder, emphasizes female characteristics of breasts and hairdo. In addition, the bowl held by the figure has sexual and reproductive associations.
The two headrests are everyday objects with the same function, though their differing forms are based on the gender of the user. The blocklike form of the man’s headrest contrasts with the more slender form of the woman’s. Even everyday objects such as these can subtly reinforce a strict, binary concept of gender. In addition to cradling the head and protecting often elaborate coiffures during sleep, headrests also serve as emblems of status.
early 20th century
6 1/4 x 7 5/8 x 3 1/4 in. (15.9 x 19.4 x 8.3 cm) (show scale)
Purchased with funds given by various donors in memory of Donn G. Dumouchelle
This item is not on view
Sidamo. Man's Headrest, early 20th century. Wood, fiber, 6 1/4 x 7 5/8 x 3 1/4 in. (15.9 x 19.4 x 8.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by various donors in memory of Donn G. Dumouchelle, 2013.60 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2013.60_PS9.jpg)
overall, 2013.60_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2014
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