Buyer to return Hopi artefacts to Native Americans

A charity which bought 24 sacred Native American masks at a controversial Paris auction is to return them to the Hopi and Apache tribes in the US.

BBC News Reports

The US-based Annenberg Foundation said it had spent a total of $530,000 (£322,000; 385,000 euros) at the auction of masks and other artefacts.

Of the 24 masks, 21 will be given to the Hopi Nation in Arizona and three to the San Carlos Apache.

The auction of 70 similar artefacts in April caused an outcry.

The tribes had sought to block their sale and the US embassy had asked for the latest auction to be suspended.

Masks from the Hopi Native American tribe being auctioned in Paris, 9 DecemberThese Hopi masks were auctioned on Monday
The Tumas Crow Mother was another Hopi mask put on sale.

But French judges rejected legal challenges to both auctions, finding that the artefacts had been acquired legally.

The auctioneers argue that blocking such sales would have implications for the trade in indigenous art, and could potentially force French museums to hand back collections they had bought.

Mask being auctioned in Paris, 9 December

Mask being auctioned in Paris, 9 December
BBC News/Reuters

 

On Monday, the Hopi and Apache masks, together with other items, raised $1.6m, the Associated Press reports.

Pierre Servan-Schreiber, the Hopis’ French lawyer, bought one mask for 13,000 euros and also intended to return it to the tribe.

Responding to news of the Annenberg Foundation’s purchase, Sam Tenakhongva, a Hopi cultural leader, said: “This is a great day for not only the Hopi people but for the international community as a whole.

“The Annenberg Foundation set an example today of how to do the right thing. Our hope is that this act sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility. They simply cannot be put up for sale.”

Judge approves auction of sacred Hopi masks

 

By THOMAS ADAMSON, Associated Press

December 6, 2013

PARIS (AP) — A judge has ruled that the controversial sale of 32 Native American Hopi masks can go ahead next week.

The Hopi tribe had taken a Paris auction house to court Tuesday to try to block the sale, arguing that they are “bitterly opposed” to the use as commercial art of sacred masks that represent their ancestor’s spirits.

Corinne Matouk, a lawyer who represented the Drouot auction house said the law was on their side.

“In French law there is nothing stopping the sale of Hopi artifacts.”

Pierre Servan-Schreiber, the Hopi’s French lawyer, said it is “very disappointing” and said he would explore options including seeking help from U.N. cultural organization UNESCO.

The “Katsinam” masks are being put on sale by a private collector on Dec. 9 and 11, alongside an altar from the Zuni tribe that used to belong to late Hollywood star Vincent Price, and other Native American frescoes and dolls.

The tribe has said it believes the masks, which date back to the late 19th and early 20th century, were taken from a northern Arizona reservation in the early 20th century.

In April, a Paris court ruled that such sales are legal, and Drouot sold off around 70 Hopi masks for some 880,000 euros ($1.2 million) despite vocal protests and criticism from actor Robert Redford and the U.S. government.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

Lawyers Bring Fresh Lawsuit on Sale of Hopi Masks

By THOMAS ADAMSON Associated Press

The Native American Hopi tribe took a Paris auction house to court Tuesday to try to block the upcoming sale of 32 sacred tribal masks, arguing they are “bitterly opposed” to the use as merchandise of sacred objects that represent their ancestral spirits.

The Katsinam masks are scheduled for sale at the Drouot auction house on Dec. 9 and 11, alongside an altar from the Zuni tribe that used to belong to late Hollywood star Vincent Price, and other Native American frescoes and dolls.

Advocates for the Hopis argue that selling the sacred Katsinam masks as commercial art is illegal because the masks are like tombs and represent their ancestors’ spirits. The tribe nurtures and feed the masks as if they are the living dead. The objects are surreal faces made from wood, leather, horse hair and feathers and painted in vivid pigments of red, blue, yellow and orange.

In April, a Paris court ruled that such sales are legal in France, and Drouot sold off around 70 Hopi masks despite vocal protests and criticism from actor Robert Redford and the U.S. government. The U.S., unlike France, possesses laws which robustly protect indigenous peoples.

Tribal lawyers filed a new lawsuit over the new sale, and a Paris court held a hearing in the case Tuesday. The judge will issue a verdict Friday, three days before the first sale.

The Hopis’ French lawyer, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, remains optimistic that this time the judge will rule in their favor. His argument highlights an existing French law which prevents the sale of tombs, and gives these objects a special, protected status.

“The Hopis are saying that not everything can be sold and bought. The day that there are no more Katsinam masks, the Hopi tribe will exist no more,” Servan-Schreiber argued in court.

“It’s a cause worth fighting for. And like all good causes, you need to keep fighting. The Hopis have been massacred, slaughtered, pillaged and for years deprived of what was theirs, and at some point this has to change,” Servan-Schreiber said.

The tribe has said it believes the masks, which date back to the late 19th and early 20th century, were taken from a northern Arizona reservation in the early 20th century. Curiosity about one of the oldest indigenous tribes whose territory is now surrounded by the U.S. state first led collectors and researchers there.

“The Katsinam (masks) represent cultural heritage, objects of tribal and ceremonial rites. It’s the Hopis’ collective property — they have never belonged to anyone, have no commercial value,” said Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, in a statement.

Drouot auction house disagrees.

“These are extremely beautiful artifacts. They belong to a private collector and have not been stolen. The fact this collector wishes to sell them here in Paris shows that the city is seen as the world leader in the sale of primitive art,” Eric Geneste of the Drouot auction house said, recalling that in the April sale, the 70 masks sold for some $1.2 million.

The lawyer for Eve auction house that’s selling the masks, Corinne Matouk, compared the objects to sacred Qurans or Bibles that have been sold legally.

“Sacred objects from the big monotheistic religions have been sold at auction in the same way. In no way do I question the value they have for the Hopi tribe. This is about the law … Why are we giving them a special status?” asked Matouk.

In addition to the 32 Hopi masks, Drouot will sell a Zuni altar taken from a private temple from the New Mexico-based tribal community, as well as three two-meter (6 ½ -foot) Native American frescoes. The only other existing frescoes of this type are exhibited in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

It is unclear if the Zunis altar is also considered too sacred to sell, and the tribe wasn’t available for comment.

Monroe Warshaw, an art collector from New York, who bought two Hopi masks for around 28,000 euros ($36,500) in April, first said in an interview with The Associated Press that he didn’t believe the masks had been stolen from the Hopis and had refused to return them.

“How did they steal them? Did some antique dealer go into their house at night and steal them?”

But subsequently Warshaw had a change of heart. He visited the Hopi community after his comments created a backlash and he reportedly received hate mail. He returned the masks to the tribe in September, saying that his visit made him see that the masks did indeed have a special meaning for the tribespeople.

The Associated Press is not transmitting images of the objects because the Hopi have long kept the items out of public view and consider it sacrilegious for any images of the objects to appear.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at https://twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

Hopi masks snapped up after French court allows sale

The Hopi masks displayed at the Paris auction house before the sale, which was condemned by Hollywood actor Robert Redford as a 'criminal gesture'. Photograph: John Schults/Reuters

The Hopi masks displayed at the Paris auction house before the sale, which was condemned by Hollywood actor Robert Redford as a ‘criminal gesture’. Photograph: John Schults/Reuters

By Tara Oakes on Reuters.com

PARIS | Fri Apr 12, 2013 1:30pm EDT

PARIS (Reuters) – An auction of ancient masks revered as sacred by a Native American tribe fetched more than 750,000 euros on Friday, disappointing prominent opponents to the sale after a French court ruled it should go ahead.

The Hopi tribe of northeastern Arizona and supporters including the U.S. ambassador to France and actor Robert Redford had urged the Paris auction house to suspend the sale due to the masks’ cultural and religious significance.

But the court rejected a motion from the tribe and Survival International, a non-government group representing its interests, arguing that it could only intervene to protect human remains or living beings.

The auction went ahead in front of a standing-room only crowd, raising about 752,000 euros ($984,500) in pre-tax proceeds as collectors snapped up dozens of lots in a sale that lasted more than two hours.

A buyer who acquired four masks said he was delighted to be adding to his collection of Hopi artefacts.

“One day I might give some back,” said the collector, who declined to be identified. “But if it had not been for collectors in the 19th century who contributed to the field of ethnology, there would very little knowledge of the Hopi.”

Some disagreed. A man with Hopi origins studying in France was kicked out of the auction room for interrupting the sale with an angry speech. Several people trying to take photographs were also removed.

“We have lots of art that can be shared with other cultures, but not these,” said Bo Lomahquahu, 25. “Children aren’t even supposed to see them.”

The Neret-Minet, Tessier and Sarrou auctioneers said their collection of masks, priced between $2,000 and $32,000 apiece, was assembled by “an amateur with assured taste” who lived in the United States for three decades.

A spokeswoman for the auctioneers was not immediately available for comment.

“This decision is very disappointing,” said Pierre Servan-Schreiber, the lawyer for Survival International, a London-based advocacy group. “Not everything is necessarily up for sale or purchase, and we need to be careful.”

A visitor looks at antique tribal masks revered as sacred ritual artifacts by a Native American tribe in Arizona which are displayed at an auction house in Paris April 11, 2013. REUTERS/John Schults

A visitor looks at antique tribal masks revered as sacred ritual artifacts by a Native American tribe in Arizona which are displayed at an auction house in Paris April 11, 2013. REUTERS/John Schults

‘CRIMINAL GESTURE’

A chorus of opponents had weighed in on the dispute, arguing the Paris auction house should provide legal justification for selling the masks.

“To auction these would be in my opinion a sacrilege, a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions,” Robert Redford wrote in an open letter.

The U.S. ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin, had urged the auctioneers to reconsider, saying in a statement late on Thursday: “A delay would allow the creators of these sacred objects the chance to determine their possible rights.”

Rivkin, who said that the auction house had yet to provide the Hopi Tribe with essential information about the objects, voiced his dismay in a Twitter message.

“I am saddened to learn that the sacred Hopi cultural objects are being put out to auction in Paris today,” he wrote.

The tribe’s legal advocates had sued the auctioneers at the Drouot-Richelieu auction house in central Paris on grounds that auctioning the masks would cause the Hopi “profound hurt and distress”.

Lawyer Quentin de Margerie bought mask 13, a design which mocks tourists, on behalf of Servan-Schreiber to give to the Hopi. He told Reuters few of the collectors understood the significance of the artefacts they were buying.

“It’s a symbolic choice,” de Margerie said. “What the Hopi have said about this auction is that people don’t understand their culture.”

($1 = 0.7618 euros)

(Reporting by Nick Vinocur, Chine Labbe, Lucien Libert; Writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)