African Dream Machines: Style, Identity and Meaning of African Headrests

Paperback
African headrests have been moved out of the category of functional objects and into the more rarefied category of 'art' objects. Styles in African headrests are usually defined in terms of western art and archaeological discourses, but this book interrogates these definitions of style through a case study of headrests of the 'Tellem' of Mali. African Dream Machines questions the assumed one-to-one relationship between formal styles and ethnic identities or classifications.The notion of 'authenticity' as a fixed value in relation to African art is de-stabilised, while historical factors are used to demonstrate that 'authenticity', in the form sought by collectors of antique African art, is largely a construct, which has no basis in historical reality.The final chapter seeks to understand the significance of African headrests in relation to a number of different perspectives: the western fascination with the headrest as a synecdoche for otherness ; their iconography in terms of subject matter (human and animal figures); and the ways in which headrests are used as support to the head of a sleeping person.Each of the many headrests discussed is illustrated in a drawing by the author.