Ivory Coast, Guro, circa 1900
Wood – height: 15cm
Kono is the ethnic transliteration of a heddle pulley, which is a functional object used in the practice of weaving. The Baule and their neighbours, the Guro, are famous weavers, known for their sophisticated indigo and white cotton fabrics. Heddle pulleys are set on the narrow-band loom and are used to separate the threads, facilitating the weaving process. Guro heddle pulleys are amongst the finest carved examples, including the present anthropomorphic kono.
Many of these objects survive so it really comes down to the quality, expression and condition of the carving. The present ticks all boxes and presents as a dynamic object with an attractive natural patina and pronounced energetic shapes. Stylistically this kono resonates with the Guro aesthetic, conveyed by the elongated features; the long, graceful neck, high forehead, small mouth & chin, the protruding decoration on the reverse of the neck, and hairdo are all characteristic features. A few similar examples reside in important collections; one is in a private collection but was previously in the Barbier Mueller Museum, Geneva (inv.# BMG 1007-151) and another is in the collection of the renowned scholar and collector Lucien van de Velde (fig.1 & 2).
The outstanding quality of this carving and its original prominent display in the public space suggest that the carver saw an opportunity to demonstrate their talent with this type of object. It also implies pulleys like the present may have a more complex meaning; aside from a commercial connotation they perhaps have a spiritual one too - inspiring the weaver in his making of beautiful cloths. In support of this notion, the academics Herbert Cole and Farr Francine suggested heddle pulleys are not uniquely functional, and that they do in fact carry spiritual value, aiding the weavers in their creative process.
The naturally worn layered patina compliments the expressive and delicate volumes. This beautiful object originating from the creative industry of the Guro illustrates their famed artistic sophistication and the integration of high-quality art objects in the daily life.
Collection John Lens, Antwerp, Belgium and by descent until 2010
Private collection, Antwerp, Belgium
AHDRC.EU INVENTORY NUMBER
Barbier, Jean Paul ed. Arts de la Côte d'Ivoire dans les collections du Musée Barbier-Mueller.
Geneva: Musée Barbier-Mueller, Vol.I, 1993.
Farr, D. Francine. "West African Heddle Pulleys." African Arts 13, no. 2 (1980): 74-75.
Accessed February 24, 2021. doi:10.2307/3335522.
https://www.moma.org/audio/playlist/308/3981 accessed 10/03/2021
 Barbier (Jean Paul), editor, Arts de la Côte d'Ivoire dans les collections du Musée Barbier-Mueller, (Genève: Musée Barbier-Mueller, Vol.I, 1993), 104, #178 – Lucien van de Velde has published several key publications in the field of African art.
 Weaving was a commonly male activity.
 Farr, D. Francine. "West African Heddle Pulleys." African Arts 13, no. 2 (1980): 74-75. Accessed February 24, 2021. doi:10.2307/3335522.
Ivory coast, Senufo, early 20th century
wood – height: 42cm