What these epic sculptural heads teach us about Mexico and our cultural biases

In other words, any Western viewer in the 21st century appreciates art with a cultural conditioning that privileges certain classical traits. Olmec stone heads, which operate outside of our rooted understanding of art in the Greco-Roman sense, can cause confusion and discomfort. Olmec wrestler is a safer bet.

In 1996, the Washington Post published an article about the Olmecs, which began: “About 2,500 years ago, when the ancient Olympians ran naked during the Golden Age of Greece, a mysterious and complex civilization in this hemisphere – the first in the Americas – was approaching its decline. ”

Immediately, the writer established a classic framework in which the reader could understand the position of the Olmecs in history. (The two societies, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with each other.) While archaeologists initially believed that the stone heads of the Olmecs represented those of the gods, Western preconceptions again Proved Incorrect: Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the Olmecs were found not to have depicted their deities as humans, but as monsters. The most recent research suggests that these heads instead represent those of Olmec rulers in the flesh.

It is impossible, of course, to give up the unconscious biases that permeate our judgments. But if we really want to understand the Olmec – or any other culture, for that matter – we must first ask ourselves why we see things the way we do.

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