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.