Chiki Chiki

The Mayan deity Chahk, symbol of power and fear

The sculpture of Chahk is located in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.  Displayed in the Samuel H. and Linda M. Lindenbaum Galleries, this sculpture is made of limestone. The sculpture of Chahk was carved in the 9th century in the Mesoamerica, in now present-day Mexico. According to the museum plaque description, this sculpture represents Chahk, the Maya god Chahk as an ax-wielding incarnation of rain, storms, and lightning.  Chahk was at first the rain god but, by an association of ideas, he was also the god of wind, thunder, and lightning. By extension, he was considered the god of fertility and agriculture and in a broader sense that of growth and germination and ultimately as the god of corn seed.

The author of this artwork is unknown. Some parts of the statue have been worn by time. However, the most important part of the sculpture stays undamaged.  The sculpture has dimensions of 214.6 x 50.8 x 61cm.

In this post, I will analyze the formal elements of this sculpture and show how they contribute to representing The sculpture of Chahk as conveying power and fear.

The sculpture is a three-dimensional figurative statue, standing upright, prevailing on a vertical axis. The size of the statue conveys an idea of grandeur. The sculpture of Chahk, is a little above life-size. The large size of the statue gives an idea of majesty. The sculptor by attributing a large size to Chahk implicitly wants to emphasize the power that emerges from the sculpture.

The sculpture seems to be massive and dense. The sculpture of Chahk has 5 visible negative spaces. These spaces are the large empty space between the two legs; two small empty spaces in form of holes between the arms and the trunk of the statue. In addition, there are two small negative spaces in form of small holes between each shoulder and the head of the statue. Apart from these 5 spaces, the statue forms a compact and solid body of rock. The abundance of positive spaces in the upper part this sculpture gives to the viewer an impression of density and mass. The massive character of the statue conveys an idea of strength and power to The sculpture of Chahk.

As regards to its texture, the sculpture of Chahk is roughly textured. The statue is made of limestone, a hard sedimentary rock which is known to have a granular texture that gives an unfriendly appearance to the statue.                                                                        In addition, using a hard and solid material such as the limestone give an impression of solidity and durability to the statue, and we could assume that the sculpture was made using a subtractive process such as carving. All these attributes reinforce the idea of power that the sculpture conveys.

The lines that are used in the exterior contour of the sculpture are also important. The legs of the sculpture are almost straight and vertical lines in the exterior contour. The waist of the sculpture is also linear in the exterior. Curved lines are used to define the exterior contour of the head and the facial features of the sculpture.  These outlines of the exterior contours of the sculpture are well-defined, and this allows the viewer to see clearly the shape of Chahk.

When we look at the sculpture for the first time, your attention is attracted by its massive head topped by a garment that resembles a helmet. The statue has circular and wide eyes. The width of the orbit of the eye gives an idea of perpetual awakening as if Chahk was constantly watching over us. The wide width of the eyes can inspire fear in the person watching them. All these contribute in reinforcing the idea of power and fear that emanate from the sculpture of Chahk. The cheeks of Chahk are prominent and it adds to its menacing face. The mouth of the statue is greatly opened as if he were screaming. This gives it a menacing appearance.

Due to ravages of time, it is difficult to uncover whether the original sculpture was painted or had the original color of the limestone used to create it.

Around his waist, Chahk wears a garment that could be a big belt. This broad belt gives it a warrior aspect and it adds to the idea of strength and power that the sculpture conveys. However, in his right hand that has been preserved, Chahk holds a vertical object which according to the sculpture plate is an ax that symbolizes lightning. Chahk’s left hand was damaged by ravages of time. This attribute alone gives the statue of Chahk an idea of power.

The analysis of the formal elements in the sculpture of Chahk shows that the sculpture intents to convey an idea of power and also to inspire fear. The large size of the sculpture plays an important role in conveying an impression of grandeur to the sculpture, and it also intimidates the viewer. The choice of limestone, a very hard rock to carve the sculpture was not fortuitous. The limestone gives a feeling of strength and durability to the sculpture.  The rough texture of the sculpture, which is not appealing contribute to give an unfriendly appearance to the sculpture. Apart from the large empty space between the two legs of Chahk, the upper part of the sculpture, which has only 4 smalls negative spaces, seems to form a compact set; and it gives more density and mass to the sculpture, which related to strength and power.

The facial features of the sculpture, which the larges open eyes and the open mouth inspire fear.

By analyzing the formal elements, we can conclude that the sculpture was successful in depicting the god Chahk as it was imagined by the Maya, as a powerful and frightening god.  Due to ravages of time, the sculpture may have lost some of its important features; and it would have been interesting to have an insight of original color of the sculpture or the motif used in carving its helmet. However, by observing the actual sculpture, the viewer is able to apprehend the meaning behind it.



Alexandre Koffi

Entrepreneur, space enthusiast, dreamer, cosmic messenger.

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