Activists vowed Thursday to block the proposed sale of sacred objects originating from Arizona’s Hopi tribe at a Paris auction, just months after a similar controversy stoked outrage.
Tribal people’s advocacy group Survival International said it would go to court in the French capital on Tuesday in an attempt to halt the sale of around 25 objects, known as katsinam, revered by the Hopi tribe.
The looming court battle is a replay of the legal saga that erupted in April when French firm Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou ignored internationals appeals to halt the sale of some 70 katsinam that eventually fetched around 930,000 euros ($1.3 million).
The latest sale is being conducted over two days by Alain Leroy of auctioneers EVE on December 9 and 11, despite please from the Hopi’s religious authorities not to go ahead.
“It’s a matter of enormous regret that another auction house seems prepared to defy public opinion and the feelings of the Hopi, who are these objects’ rightful owners,” Survival International director Stephen Corry said in a statement.
“The previous auction generated such a torrent of unwelcome publicity for the auctioneers that you might have thought anyone would think twice before doing the same thing again — but clearly the large sums of money to be made from this immoral trade are too tempting.
“I hope the Paris courts will this time block the sale — none of these objects should be sold.”
Lawyer Pierre Servan-Schreiber, who led an unsuccessful bid to halt the previous sale in April, will head London-based Survival and the Hopi’s latest courtroom battle.
Servan-Schreiber bought one of the katsinam sold at the April auction and later returned it to the Hopi.
The last auction was decried by activists, including Hollywood legend Robert Redford, who described it as a “criminal gesture” and “sacrilege.”
The sale involved dozens of striking, brightly colored mask-like kachina visages and headdresses that the 18,000-strong Hopi say are blessed with divine spirits.
The challenge for the Hopi is that while the sale of sacred Indian artifacts has been outlawed in the United States since 1990 — legislation that has allowed the tribe to recover items held by American museums in the past — the law does not extend to sales overseas.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]