This painting, Artist Unknown: At the End of the Day, by Bongi Dhlomo Mautloa, depicts a single very special object – a wooden headrest.
The use of headrests in southern Africa is ancient; some have been traced back to the 12th-century archaeological site of Mapungubwe, next to the Limpopo River. Thin sheets of beaten gold, believed to have adorned a long-disintegrated wooden headrest, have been discovered there.
Headrests were always used to support the head while one was sleeping, in order to protect elaborate hairstyles. One would never travel without one’s own headrest, which over time became smooth and worn, and shiny with use. Because these objects had such a very intimate connection with their owners, and such a close association with the head and with sleep, headrests were seen as precious vehicles through which to communicate with the ancestral spirits. In many instances these objects were buried with their owners after death.
The shapes and designs vary greatly from region to region. Some simple and functional, others elaborately decorated and richly carved.
Many headrests are now in museums, usually kept in glass cases to be viewed as beautiful objects, far removed from their once very personal lives.
Why do you think the artist called this painting “Artist Unknown: At the End of the Day?