A contested auction of dozens of Native American tribal masks went ahead Friday afternoon following a Paris court ruling, in spite of appeals for a delay by the Hopi tribe, its supporters including actor Robert Redford, and the U.S. government.
About 2-1/2 hours after the court announced its decision, auctioneers began selling dozens of brilliantly colored masks made of wood, leather, horse hair and feathers across town at Druout auction house.
The auctioneer argued that blocking the sale would have tremendous implications and potentially force French museums to empty their collections. Arizona’s Hopi Indians want the masks returned, insisting they have a special status and are more than art — representing their dead ancestors’ spirits. Hopis feed and nurture the masks as if they are the living dead.
In its ruling, the court noted the Hopis ascribe “sacred value” to the masks but “clearly they cannot be assimilated to human bodies or elements of bodies of humans who exist or existed” — the sale of which would be banned in France.