As I flipped through the Art Beyond the West book for class this Kunz Axe really caught my eye. Instantly I was intrigued and wondered if it was some sort of spirit or ancestor pendant like that of the Maori and their Hei tiki pendants. Its rough expression brought questions to my mind. What did it stand for? What purpose did it have? What is it made out of? Stone or Jade? Its very geometric shapes puzzled me as it clearly had facial features and a curling mouth.
Further reading from the Art Beyond the West book gave me insight into this curious figurine. The Kunz Axe was made by the Olmec culture around 1000 BCE and carved out of jade. It is described as a "howling infant with feline eyes and mouth." The book refers to it as a were-jaguar. These pendants of hybrid creatures are said to have maybe represented spirits known by the Olmec's, some sort of lineage sign, or even shamans (or the equivalent in Olmec culture) who could be transformed into these different beasts like that of the Indians who wore coyote fur and were said to be able to transform in said animal for fast travel as a medicine man. Also it is said that these could appear to be apart of a writing system by using these figurines as forms of pictographs.
The term "were-jaguar" in my opinion fits this piece very well as its face is contorted into a howl of yelling sort of pose and well as he slanted almond eyes that gave it a very feral look. I can understand now the slightly geometric shapes on its body if it was to be used as a pictograph in their culture. The overall "other worldly" vibe I get when looking at this jadeite carving makes me believe it is very likely these would have been used by shaman for transformation. It is also clearer to me now that this piece is made out of jade after all the other jadeite figures and pendants that I have seen.
Post by: Ashley Williams
Photo Courtesy of: http://theslideprojector.com/art9/art9lecturepresentations/art9lecture3.html
Information found in: Art Beyond the West by Michael Kampen O'Riley