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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Pre-Columbian Masterpieces : Colima Sculpture of a Masked Shaman
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Colima Sculpture of a Masked Shaman - PF.2409
Origin: Western Mexico
Circa: 100 BC to 300 AD
Dimensions: 8.625" (21.9cm) high x 5.5" (14.0cm) wide
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Terracotta


Location: UAE
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Description
The Colima are part of a group of archaeological cultures – known almost purely from their artworks – referred to as the Western Mexico Shaft Tomb (WMST) tradition. There are many distinct groups within this agglomeration, and their relationships are almost totally obscure due to the lack of contextual information.

All of the cultures encompassed under the WMST nomenclature were in the habit of burying their dead in socially-stratified burial chambers at the base of deep shafts, which were in turn often topped by buildings. Originally believed to be influenced by the Tarascan people, who were contemporaries of the Aztecs, thermoluminescence has pushed back the dates of these groups over 1000 years. Although the apogee of this tradition was reached in the last centuries of the 1st millennium BC, it has its origins over 1000 years earlier at sites such as Huitzilapa and Teuchitlan, in the Jalisco region. Little is known of the cultures themselves, although preliminary data seems to suggest that they were sedentary agriculturists with social systems not dissimilar to chiefdoms. These cultures are especially interesting to students of Mesoamerican history as they seem to have been to a large extent outside the ebb and flow of more aggressive cultures – such as the Toltecs, Olmecs and Maya – in the same vicinity. Thus insulated from the perils of urbanization, they developed very much in isolation, and it behooves us to learn what we can from what they have left behind.

The arts of this region are enormously variable and hard to understand in chronological terms, mainly due to the lack of context. The most striking works are the ceramics, which were usually placed in graves, and do not seem to have performed any practical function (although highly decorated utilitarian vessels are also known). It is possible that they were designed to depict the deceased – they are often very naturalistic – although it is more probable that they constituted, when in groups, a retinue of companions, protectors and servants for the hereafter. More abstract pieces – such as reclinatorios – probably had a more esoteric meaning that is hard to recapture from the piece.

The current piece falls within the Colima style, which is perhaps the most unusual stylistic subgroup of this region. Characterized by a warm, red glaze, the figures are very measured and conservative, while at the same time displaying a great competence of line. They are famous for their sculptures of obese dogs, which seem to have been fattened for the table. Colima reclinatorios are also remarkable, curvilinear yet geometric assemblages of intersecting planes and enigmatic constructions in the semi- abstract.

Posed in a wide-legged stance, the shaman/warrior holds his arms out in front of him, his hands grasping what may be small rattles. His elaborate body costume includes leg and wristbands, beaded armbands and an elaborate beaded necklace that wraps elaborately around his neck and upper torso. Subtle ear spools, a nose ornament and cap held on by a chinstrap serve to embellish his face. However, his face all but disappears when the shaman's dramatic headdress-mask is positioned on his head. Immediately commanding one’s attention, this crocodilian mask has a long snout complete with fearsome teeth. Beady eyes stare out at us, while large stylized ears spring from the top of the headdress. A huge crescent feather helmet crowns the center of this piece, completing the startling overall effect. We have only to gaze at this masked dancer to immediately sense his age-old power and spirited energy. A spark of the imagination sets his body in rhythmic motion--the sounds of the rattles, beads and his hypnotic voice echoing across the ages, capturing us forever in his magnetic spell. - (PF.2409)

 

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