Author Archives: Niamh Collard

It All Comes Together: Installing The Guro Loom Pulley

west african loom pulley in the Cortauld's gallery

After weeks of research, proofreading, soliciting the opinions of experts in West African carving, textiles and craft and meetings with the web designer, marketing team and mount maker, the project has eventually come together with the final installation of the pulley.

Graphic designers preparing gallery labels for display.

Gathering in the gallery early on the morning of the 4th of June with the curator, graphic designer, conservator and gallery technician the case was prepared, the labels arranged, and the mount fixed in place ready for this beautiful carved tool to go on display.

Installing the pulley in Room 10.

In the quiet of the gallery, in its gleaming, illuminated case and alongside Modigliani’s Female Nude of 1916 – a painting that was inspired by sketches of Ivorian carvings made at the ethnographic museum in Paris – the loom pulley was transformed.

Having handled it in the store and looked at it several times since, I felt that I already knew the object quite well. Installed in the gallery, though, it took on a completely new light.

We had been worried that, as a small object, the loom pulley might be dwarfed in the Illuminating Objects case.

Considering that the display explores the tool as it was used by Guro weavers in their work, it was also important that its visual presentation and position in the case mirrored how a pulley would have sat in a craftsman’s loom.

Having looked at photos of a Guro loom, Colin, the mount maker, had constructed a simple and stylish solution to this problem. Looking at the pulley in its case, its presence is striking.

The delicately carved nose and downcast eyes of the woman’s face catch the light, drawing the eye across the room to the pulley and placing it alongside the elegance of Modigliani’s Female Nude.

My involvement in the project is now coming to a close and all that remains is for me to say thank you to everyone who has been involved!

I am very grateful to Dr Sacha Gerstein at The Courtauld, Prof. Trevor Marchand and Prof. Anna Contadini at SOAS, Dr Michaela Oberhofer and Eberhard Fischer at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich and Dr Duncan Clarke for all of their support and help over the past few months, and of course to my friends at the Agotime Weaving Centre in Kpetoe, Ghana, who taught me so much about weaving and what it means to be a craftsperson in West Africa.

Researching The Guro Loom Pulley: An Anthropologist In An Art Gallery

Woven indigo Cloth

With a background in the anthropology of craft work in West Africa and having spent time in a weaving workshop in Ghana, choosing the Guro loom pulley as the focus of my research at The Courtauld was relatively straightforward.

As a tool used to make cloth, I was familiar with the way the loom pulley may have been used by weavers and I knew something about its place within a wider West African context of textile production and carving.

Photograph of a Guro Indigo Cloth.

The project’s challenge then has been communicating what I know as an anthropologist, first to my art historian colleagues in The Courtauld Gallery and then to a wider public.

The process of researching the pulley and presenting it for display has involved translating anthropological ideas into something that will make sense in an art gallery or museum.

Anthropology is a discipline that is based on intensive fieldwork, usually with a specific group of people, and often during a particular period in time. When anthropologists speak about what we know we are quite careful to say that our knowledge is partial and does not necessarily hold true for all places and times.

One of the main issues I faced in researching the pulley was that most of what we know about Guro weaving and carving comes from fieldwork carried out in Côte D’Ivoire relatively recently.

Like many African objects collected by connoisseurs throughout the 19th and early 20thcenturies that have subsequently ended up in gallery collections, very little is known about the actual circumstances in which this particular loom pulley was made, used and sold. Without this historical context, we are forced to rely on research carried out with Guro craftspeople in the past few decades.

Despite undoubted continuities between past and present, when working like this we have to be wary of assuming that nothing has changed in the ways objects are made and used. Although there will be a resemblance between the way a decorated loom pulley was made by Guro carvers in the 1980s and how a similar object was carved a century before, techniques, style, materials and the skill of craftspeople all change over time.

My challenge has been to look at what experts in both African Art History and Anthropology have had to say about Guro craftwork and come up with an interpretation of the loom pulley which is true to both disciplines, but that will also (and probably more importantly!) engage someone who is new to the wonders of African Art.

The job of translating current day anthropology into the past is not an easy one and I don’t know how well I’ve done- I suppose only the gallery visitors can be the judge of that!