Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Young Hopi speaks out

The young Hopi I wrote about a few days ago after the heartbreak auction of the Friends in Paris speaks out in a mature and beautiful way. Listen to him here. How right he is about the Hopi religion and the ceremonies. Thank you Bo, it was good to meet you.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

After the Hopi Friends are autioned off- Number two goes home

Number two comes home
 At the request of a friend who worked for the Hopi and is married to one I got involved in opposing bthe sacrilegious sales of 70 Hopi Katsinam  by Neret-Minet in the auction house Drouot in Paris on April 12th. I went as an observer so the Hopi would know what went down. Entering Salle 7 – Room seven for viewing was overwhelming. The air was dense, heavy, packed with energies. The beauty was moving, the spirit could be felt coming from some of the ‘Friends’ as the Hopi call these entities. It felt uncomfortable as if being lumped together, the Friends didn’t seem to feel right. As if the energies of the different Friends were uneasy with each other. I saw Friends Hopi haven’t seen ever and I and the buying audience, should never have seen these Friends. I took pictures which I’ll share with Hopi and bought some catalogs. Waiting for the ruling by the French judge, I eavesdropped on conversations and learned that at least one buyer at the auction, the ‘Fondation Joe Dassin’ named after a French singer-songwriter who died in 1980, would be returning the Friend they bought for 3,700 € to the Hopi Nation. There were several bidders over the phone and one can hope some also bought one or more Katsinam to be returned to the Hopi.

Pour ou contre – For or against
The court ruled that to forbid this auction would set a dangerous precedent for all future sales of religious artifacts. The court case came about because Survival France – an NGO defending the rights of indigenous people – paid the lawyer Pierre Servan Schreiber to plead the case. Security was strict; there were protests in front of the entrance to the building. Upon reentering the building for the actual sale I was asked by security whether I was for or against: Pour ou contre? The answer: ‘I am an observer’  let José and me through. The auction room itself wasn’t big and only people who had a catalog were allowed in, assuming at the price of 20 € only bidders would get a catalog. In under two hours 68 Friends were auctioned off. Two objects were Navajo and a few were Acoma, Zuni or Jemez. Two ‘Friends’ were withheld since they didn’t get the minimum price. Listening to the discussions during the viewing before the sale I was approached and asked whether I would answer some questions: Why was I there? Why does it matter to me... Just speaking about the Friends – no, no they are not masks – they are embodied spirits, they belong to the group, to the Hopi as collective property versus individual property, choosing my words with care, not speaking for the Hopi only sharing what I learned while visiting Hopi.

A million dollar business
What could I answer to the question how do the Hopi feel, flooded with pain on the three mesas, of the people living off the reservation I tried to share the devastation, the anger, the grief, the disbelief, the pain the people feel. The loss of these Friends is immense. Europeans don’t seem to understand and wonder ‘why can’t the Hopi just make new ones?’. The auction was supposed to bring 1.000.000 €. According to my tally it came to 684.900 €. Of course to the Hopi they have no material value, they have no price tag. Four women were expulsed during the auction: one journalist having her cell phone or recorder on was pushed out. One American lady was escorted out and her last word was in French: dégelasse! A young Hopi from third Mesa after one word had to leave the room. I had been told right at the beginning to stop taking pictures and no filming. Since I wanted to take notes, I immediately complied.

Friends in the store room
Three shocking facts: The two ‘specialists’ for instance when they spoke about the Sun god, mentioned the beautiful patina on the inside of the ‘mask’, proving it had been worn during ceremonial dances and thus selling the sweat and the breath of the dancers wearing the Friend. A few buyers immediately after buying a Friend would go to the storeroom come out with an open cardboard box part of Friend looking over the rim, another buyer came out with a white plastic bag as if gone to a supermarket and putting the groceries in the bag. One wonders in buying something that represents a years wages for a skilled Music teacher people just get an ’object’ and don’t treat it with the due respect. And maybe the most offensive comment was by the auction master himself concerning number 14, the Left Handed Katsina, for Powanu in February. Seen this Friend’s eyes are diamond shaped, he insisted on calling this Friend the ‘Renault Katsina’ laughing about his own joke...
The whole event got a lot of people doing what they could to prevent it and might have raised enough awareness to not hold such ‘exceptional rich’ auctions anymore. The danger is that one or other Katsinam might surface and just be included in a general auction without drawing attention to it. The auction master said: Folks, you realize there won’t be another such auction soon. It has caused way too much trouble.

On our way back home I guess the Katsinam had their say in the form of two hard, torrential rains and pelting hail.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

After the Hopi Katsinam auction

Interview with José – A general impression

José was curious about what happened an wondered how sometimes with wrong intentions people often do work together, each in his/her on way. She thought of the Fondation Joe Dassin, the young Hopi man from Third Mesa, the American woman who was ‘escorted’ out of the room, the French journalist, the Survival people demonstration in front of the entrance distributing flyers. She had the feeling that many people came because of the commotion of the last days and found it strange that I was asked whether I was for or against the sale upon entering the building for the auction. Since I replied I was an observer we were let in. Watching what was happening around us she came to the conclusion that buying something would be unethical, on the same level as buying from a ‘drunken Hopi’. When two pieces were flagged as falling under CITES, she wondered how they got to Paris in the first place.

She questioned the attitude of the people from the auction House Neret-Minet: Although we were allowed to take as many pictures as we wanted of the Katsinam, no photographs were allowed during the actual auction nor protest. When someone uttered just one word beside placing a bit, that person was immediately ‘escorted’ out of the room or their material was confiscated for a short time. In a few instances she felt the aggression of the auction house personnel had been provoked by an activist but was genuinely offended by the attitude of the ‘bouncers’: as if this were in a bar and drunks misbehaving were 'escorted' out.

She said: “From a purely European point of view there is nothing wrong with the auction because of the ruling of the judge ‘not wanting to create a precedent which would make the sale of religious art and objects impossible’. In one breath she questioned the role of the two ‘specialists’ deciding age, authenticity, whether rare or exceptional. If they know so much, she objected, why do they insist on calling them ‘Masks’ instead of ‘Friends’ like the Hopi do.

She was absolutely shocked by their comment on the inside of certain Friends: “Beautiful patina of certain ‘masks’’ because they have been used in ceremonial and sacred dances.” She felt that part of the dancers with the Friends was being sold too. Yet, she conceded, that if one didn’t know about the significance of all this for Hopi, that then the protest might be seen as ridiculous and naive and people asking themselves : what do I have to do with it?

P.S.: Another person learned from a Director of an Ethnological Museum in France that they would want the pieces and then could make a copy for the tribes 'if the tribes didn't take care of them properly'. Their discussion had been in general about ‘African Art’ and ‘Native American Art’. That shocked me!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A quote by a friend of the Hopi.

Mr. Gilles Néret-Minet, the director of the Paris auction house, has said repeatedly that he will not delay the $1 million sale. Gilles Neret-Minet told the New York Times that the Hopi should understand the sale as an "homage" to them. "Even if it chagrins them, for the tribe this is not a negative, I think the Hopis should be happy that so many people want to understand and analyze their civilization."

I quote a friend of mine and a friend to the Hopi: "The Hopi Tribe has had it's "civilization" "analyzed" invasively for far too long. They do not want to be "analyzed" anymore. Theirs is a culture to be preserved for the Hopi People, not inspected, analyzed, stolen from or sold. Stealing and selling their sacred objects can never be considered an "homage. "That's just an excuse, a rationalization. This whole episode only serves to demonstrate Mr. Néret-Minet's ignorance and greed. He should not dare tell the Hopi People what is good for them; transplanted Europeans have been doing that for over 500 years and they are tired of it. Nothing about this should make the Hopi People "happy" as he asserts. Ignorant and insensitive statements like that can only serve to inflame the situation.

Also, assertions that there is no need to pay attention to the Constitution of the Hopi Tribe because they are not a "state," are completely absurd. The United States of America recognized the tribes as sovereign nations deserving of treaties just like any other sovereign nation and, as such, the Tribes rise above the status of even the 50 states of these United States. Further, many nations recognize the Tribes as sovereigns and some have their own recognized visas, etc. So, the Hopi Tribe has the status of a sovereign recognized to deal with the Federal Government of the United States on a government-to-government or nation-to-nation basis. I believe this qualifies the Tribe as at least a "state.""

A last remark from me: Hopi in their own language means: peaceful people. In dealing with this subject we have to remain polite. The Hopi do not want demonstrations at the auction house if the sale would go through.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The repatriation of artefacts and religious and ceremonial objects

The Katchinas on the art market and the forever higher prices are a thorny, multifaceted subject. The collecting frenzy concerning the Kachina dolls carved in cottonwood root is unimaginable. Of course people prefer to buy the old and authentic figures. In the old days and still today they were given to the Pueblo children as an educational tool of their spiritual life. They used to be hung by a string on the wall or between woven mats between the beams on the ceiling. Often adorned with stylized symbols these fascinating figures are usually connected to clouds, rain, corn, fertility. Artists and anthropologists always were interested in these colorful, often bizarre sculpting; also the Dadaists with among others Maw Ernst, Man ray and André Breton. At the public sale of Breton’s estate on the 17th of April 2003 all the native art from his collections was auctioned of. The Katchinas fetched prices between 5000 € and 50.000 €. The Ethnological Museum from Marseille has been able to obtain one for 25.000 €. This poses a problem: Hopi, Zuni and an other nation from the plains had asked the famous auction house Hôtel Drouot in Paris, not to sell seven specific items. They were still active religious objects and the communities to which they belonged wished to use them. Without them the ritual connected to the object cannot be performed. The Katchinas and other objects are of vital importance for the well being of the peoples whose ancestors have made these objects in a ritual way. Impolite, not to say rudely Pierre Amrouche replied along the line that: your request doesn’t regard us… we do not have to comply with American law and that is a good thing” (source: Karenne Wood, responsible for the coordination of the repatriation of Native American objects). The request wasn’t even passed on to André Breton’s heirs. And legally the auction house is right, but once again ritually important objects disappeared in an overseas museum or in a private collection.

Today the Kachinas are still carved from the same roots. The style has subtly changed over the centuries, were it only because acrylic paint is used and that is much more colorful than old, vegetal dyes. The oldest images seem flatter and stiffer, with the arms close to the body, where as today one finds the arms in all kinds of positions. Basically the makers of the old Kachinas are anonymous, although the excellent doll carvers can be recognized by their style.  The problem isn’t the normal images one find in many collections, but the ritually active objects that have been stolen or other wise obtained in an unacceptable way. Although the collectors and the museums take good care of their objects, they don’t know how these objects have to be taken care of in a ritual way. Those who know these secrets, are initiated to do this in their respective societies are the only ones who can perform the task of caring for these objects. The art collectors are unaware that he is dealing with a manifestation of something spiritual or godly. And then the question: how much does one pay for that?  Can such an artifact be sold…?

This case is doubly hard, as the nations had asked for these objects. It happens that objects are repatriated, but that the tribes do not have the accommodations to keep the objects, or to display them. Moreover if the objects still have their power, that power can be contaminated by having been in the proximity of other objects with a different power. Some feathers and “masks” that had been given back, made the wearers of them very sick. It turned out that in order to kill the lice in the feathers and other things that could destroy them, the museum had used arsenic…

from the book: Wevers tussen twee werelden, Kramat, 2004

Monday, April 8, 2013

AFP article about the sale of Hopi Friends in Paris, April 12

Opposition to the sale of seventy Hopi masks in Paris

The auction house Néret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou maintain the auctioning of seventy sacred masks of the Hopi Indians, to be held on Friday, April 12th at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris. The Museum of Northern Arizona, the Heard Museum of Phoenix and also the Bureau for the Preservation of Hopi Culture have called for its cancellation, claiming their property rights. These Katsinam masks (see picture),  worn by the dancers during religious ceremonies forbidden for white people, are considered sacred by the Hopi tribe, which lives in the North-East of Arizona. Several such items have been sold in Paris when the collection of André Breton got dispersed in 2003. These pieces can now be found in the great European Museums, the auction house reminds us. They emphasize that the Hopi base themselves on an article of the Hopi constitution which is not recognized in France because it is not a state, in order to reclaim items which have been acquired in a completely legal way by a great French collector.(AFP- Agence Press France)

A few thoughts: The pride in European museums seems to me a strange line of defense: should the Hopi come to Europe to hold the ceremonies in the 'great European Museums'? A second thought is that the Hopi as well as the other Pueblo like Zuni, Acoma and Jemez are nations within the USA. I would assume that the USA through their Department of Foreign Affairs could represent the Hopi Nation.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Red Star Line the silent movie 'dance' - 600 extras

The Red Star Line is one of these mythical lines: At least two million people used it to emigrate to the USA.  My mother after World War II was one of them. A silent movie Dance is being made by Hans Op De Beeck for the Red Star Line Museum. 500 extras were needed for scenes evoking the mass exodus. 600 showed up for the afternoon takes on a bitterly cold day. Several scenes were shot in a sober, serene even intimate way. No 'acting' but slow movements en masse, neutral face, a range of simple costumes in tints of tans, grays, and black accents. Of course such a day entails a lot of waiting among total strangers, sharing stories and blankets to keep warm. I think of Gershwin waiting in line, showering before getting on the boat, if one was impecunious and without funds one slept in communal spaces, going through immigration on Ellis Island... Maybe the war brides followed a different scenario. Since most were married before leaving for the USA they had all the necessary papers and it might have been less intimidating. Although leaving behind their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters will not have been easy for most. I am sure most of these brides dreamed of 'American Kitchens' with fridges and washing machines, the good life. Yet American dreams often turned into American nightmares. The times in the late forties were hard, jobs and housing were scarce in the USA. Ten people living in a small clapboard house was more often the rule than the exception. Many people came to the set because of their family immigration background other were hobby-extras having participated in between 10 to 20 projects. Of course all of us have had to say goodbye to people, so a vague melancholy settled in my thoughts no longer thinking of my mother but thinking about my own comings and goings.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hopi Katsinam alert

Sadness reigns and I am afraid that also arrogance is at play. There are few means at the disposal of the Hopi to try and repatriate their sacred Katsinam. The tribe receives help from two major museum directors. The tribe also receives advice from the State and Interior Departments, but each agency says its ability to intervene is limited. The sale is supposed to bring one million dollar. Some people are suggesting to hold a collection and buy the Katsinam in order to repatriate them and give them back to the Hopi, the Zuni, Jemez and Acoma. Most of the Katsinam are over 100 years old. I love Katsinas and own three of the small 'dolls' carved to teach their meaning to children and which can be sold to tourists. Yet the Katsinam in the auction are ceremonial sacred objects with a specific function. They are irreplaceable. Only their rightful custodians know how to care for them, how to use their power. International law seems not to regulate this situation. Yet moral law does. The auctioneers wonder why another auction last December by a smaller auction house in Paris didn't cause any reaction. Well, the Hopi didn't know, could not react. I know that Hopi religion is has strict ways of doing things and as a visitor on Hopi it is easy to do something inappropriate out of ignorance. Selling these Katsinam is inappropriate. The auction house Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou knows it is. The tribes, museums and individuals caring about this disastrous sale have told them so.
Please do tell them too, let them know how you feel:
31bis rue du Faubourg Montmartre
75009 PARIS
Tèl: # 33
Email: erics@wanadoo.fr

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Closet introvert?

Do I discover myself a closet introvert? I am not shy, talk easily to a total stranger, enjoy the company of a few good friends, small groups are still more or less doable but big events are hard on me. Then I fall in the role of the observer, no longer a participant, because I can't do the chitchat. So I watch from the sideline, may find one or two people to talk with and usually I leave early. My brain buzzes with all the stimulation. I can't sleep, thoughts twirling and swirling... Probably I also need more alone time than most to quieten my mind, watch the clouds sail by, observe the changes in the light during the day. In meetings I am ok because, although it is a large group, one speaks to the chairperson or the group in general and about practical things or principles one cares about. With some friends living far away I can even talk for half an hour or longer on the phone, whereas making a normal 'taking care of business' call can be postponed for days. Well the strange chemistry of our brain... maybe this is why I became an avid reader and a blogger in splendid isolation.

Monday, April 1, 2013

African authors

Olivia Rutazibwa hosted a lunchtime event called "Writing to Africa"Schrijven aan Afrika" with four African authors . Lunchtime? Yes the conversations were held in the Ethiopian restaurant Toukoul under Olivia's gentle, artful questioning. These authors learned Dutch and do write in Dutch. Alphonse Muambi from Congo, with his book Democracy goes hungry is a regular contributor to 'Trouw' a Dutch newspaper. Babah Tarawally (Sierra Leone) published in Dutch in 2010 The blue-eyed God and seriously considers returning to  his country. Also Sayadin Hersi (Somalië) lives in and publishes his work in The Netherlands. Jean Bofane from Congo lives and writes in Belgium. Mathématiques Congolaises is his first novel. Sayadin Hersi (and it was obvious the other interviewees knew what he was talking about) remarked that readers always ask him whether his novel 'Verloren vader', Lost father is autobiographical. Smiling he said I am a writer, I do tell stories. I write them differently for a European readership than for African readers. They each expect a different way of storytelling. Living in Holland and Belgium these authors however do still love Africa, they follow what happens there; often they are critical of their own country and government.
The food was yummy. Sadly the sound wasn't too good, so I can't tell you more about the other authors.