Enhancing Beauty

Artist unknown (Zande[?] peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Hair pin (mangilli) late 19th to early 20th century
American Museum of Natural History 90.1/2656; Gift of Herbert Lang
Image © Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History
Provenance: Field collected by Herbert Lang, 1915
Zande man wearing a two-pronged iron hairpin in his coiffure and showing his beard twisted into a row of small coils along his jawline,
Akenge’s village, c. 1909-15.
Archives of the American Museum of Natural History, NY; 227671.
Mangbetu woman’s elaborate coiffure studded with ivory and iron pins, Belgian Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo.)
Photograph by Casimir d’Ostoja Zagourski, c. 1926-1937, Casimir Zagourski
Photographs, c. 1925
EEPA 1987-024-4053, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

About the Artwork

Many 19th-century Congolese men and women used elegant iron hairpins to adorn stunning hairdos that could take days to perfect and often required headrests to keep them off the ground during sleep. The hairpins’ pointed ends additionally helped in teasing out strands of hair in the styling process. High- status Mangbetu women wore broad, halo-shaped coiffures studded with iron as well as ivory pins. Zande men used fine pins surmounted by two or more tall blades to complete their adornment.

Looking Closely: Combining Form and Function

While looking at these hairpins, take notes on how the design is carefully created to be both beautiful and functional. User-centered design remains a major topic today, as items are created to fulfill specific needs while also presenting aesthetically-appealing designs.

  • Create a short list of 2-3 products that mirror these hairpins’ skillful combination of user-appeal and utility.