In the French Drouot auction house sacred Hopi masks and other contested Native American artefacts have been sold for a total of £1m,after auction goes ahead. The "Katsinam" masks are 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 collector has realised his or her investment and no doubt made a lot of cash. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, David Killion, co-wrote an open letter to argue the Hopis' case. He called for countries, including France, to tighten "laws at a national level to impede profiteering in culturally significant sacred objects".
The Katsinam masks are surreal faces made from wood, leather, horse hair and feathers and painted in vivid pigments of red, blue, yellow and orange. Unlike commercial art, the Hopis argue, these objects are akin to tombs and represent their ancestors' spirits; nurtured and fed as if they are the living dead. The objects sold briskly on Monday. One "crow mother" mask, with a geometric face flanked by crow feathers, sold for 100,000 euros ($136,000). Another mask set off a phone-bidding war and sold for 31,000 euros ($42,300). Pierre Servan-Schreiber, the Hopis' French lawyer, bought one mask for 13,000 euros ($17,700) and intends to return it to the tribe.
Thomas Adamson, 'French auction house goes ahead with Hopi tribe mask sale, ignoring US plea to delay', Associated Press December 9, 2013.
["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"]. after ignoring a plea from the US embassy to delay the sale.