London art. West African Carved Wooden Pulley at The Courtauld Gallery

London art. West African Carved Wooden Pulley at The Courtauld Gallery
Yareah Magazine

London art. West African Carved Wooden Pulley at The Courtauld Gallery. From 4 June to 8 October 2014. Enjoy your day, Yareah friends. Art is everywhere and up to you!

London art. West African Carved Wooden Pulley at The Courtauld Gallery

Carved Loom Pulley. Late 19th or early 20th century. Guro people, Central Côte D’Ivoire. Wood with carved nut reel; height: 20 cm. Samuel Courtauld Trust: The Courtauld Gallery, London. Roger Fry Bequest, 1935

The next work to be displayed in the Illuminating Objects series at The Courtauld Gallery is a delicately carved wooden loom pulley – a tool for the weaving of textiles made by the Mande-speaking Guro people of central Côte D’Ivoire, West Africa, and dated to the late 19th or early 20th century. The object will be on view from 4 June to 8 October 2014 in the 20th century rooms, near Amedeo Modigliani’s Female Nude of 1916, which was inspired by West African masks of the neighbouring Baule people of Côte D’Ivoire.

Courtauld Guro heddle pulley – front viewThis carved loom pulley, showing a chameleon on top of a woman’s head, would have been an essential tool for the Guro weaver. As across most of West Africa, weaving was – and still is – a male-dominated practice. This sensitive piece of carving would have hung in front of the craftsman as he worked. Combining practical and aesthetic functions, it shows particular sensitivity in the carving of the female figure’s face and hair. Her elaborate coiffure, scarifications and delicate profile reflect Guro ideals of feminine beauty, as do her narrow face and her downcast, almond-shaped eyes. The chameleon forms the hook from which the pulley would be hung in the loom, and is therefore less elaborate.

This combination of a finely detailed human face and a simpler animal representation links the loom pulley (more specifically called a heddle pulley) to Guro mask carving. Although one rarely sees such carved tools being used by weavers in West Africa today, they were still in use in the 1970s and ’80s. At that time, the combination of woman’s head and chameleon was still being carved for the sauli masquerade, an entertainment performed to commemorate the life of a beautiful woman.

Migration and cross-cultural exchanges have been crucial in shaping Guro arts and craft traditions, as reflected in the narrow-strip weaving practices that stretch across all of West Africa, and in the finely carved heddle pulleys which are found amongst the Dogon people in Mali to the north, the Baule Akan-speaking people of Côte D’Ivoire, and the Asante, their Ghanaian neighbours to the east.

In the early 20th century, African sculpture was greatly admired by Picasso, Matisse and the School of Paris artists and their circle of avant-garde collectors and art dealers. This pulley was acquired by the art critic, painter and curator Roger Fry, who introduced Parisian avant-garde ideas to England in the early 1900s. In his writings, Fry argued that African art – notably carving and weaving – was more authentic and energetic than the waning European traditions. Fry had a very small collection of African objects, which he left to the newly-established Courtauld after his death in 1934, along with his collection of Bloomsbury paintings and decorative arts and contemporary paintings.

This Illuminating Objects display and accompanying web page were researched and prepared by Niamh Collard, a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her research is concerned with the educational and working lives of narrow-strip weavers in eastern Ghana and she is in the process of writing up her thesis, having returned from a year in the field during which she apprenticed as a weaver. Niamh will give a lunchtime talk at 1.15 pm on 23 June 2014.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN, UK

Click to add a comment

More in Arts

Matt Keegan, Alphabet Soup (Blocked #6), 2016, Monoprint, 66 x 44 in; 167.6 x 111.8 cm

San Francisco Exhibitions. Altman Siegel. In search of Vedaland: September 8 – October 1

Yareah MagazineSeptember 3, 2016
Mailroom Tracking Excellence Award

Tracking Excellence Award For University OF The Arts London

Yareah MagazineSeptember 2, 2016
Francesca Quintano. Heterogeneous Locus. 60x48. Oil on Canvas

Los Angeles Exhibitions. DAC Gallery

Yareah MagazineJune 21, 2016
Ringling International Arts Festival

Sarasota Bay. Ringling International Arts Festival

Yareah MagazineMay 26, 2016
© Jeffrey Henson-Scales Young Man In Plaid, NYC, 1991, courtesy of the artist

Dandyism and Black Masculinity at The Photographers’ Gallery

Yareah MagazineMay 26, 2016

Elton John has chosen Sotheby’s France to sell a contemporary art work from his collection

Yareah MagazineMay 24, 2016

Yareah Magazine

Art is Everywhere and Up to You.

About Us - Press Kit - Contact Us

YM on Twitter

Top Posts & Pages

Yareah® Magazine is a Registered Trademark in the United States