A scheduled auction of 32 sacred tribal masks hit the skids on Tuesday when the Native American Hopi tribe took a Paris auction house to court, alleging violation of rights if the sacred artifacts are sold as merchandise.
Supporters of the Hopi cause say that selling the masks is illegal because the objects function as tombs for the spirits of the ancestors presiding within. Caretakers feed the masks in tradition of the living dead. A newly minted French law broadened protections on tombs and lawyers for the tribe are hoping to leverage that in the case.
Lawyers filed the suit Tuesday, and a judge is expected to rule on the matter by Friday, according to the Associated Press. The upcoming auction is set to take place December 9 and 11.
This is the second time this year this issue has risen to the fore. In April, a Paris court said that the sale of these masks was legal and more than 70 were sold at auction; the French auction house Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou ignored outcry from activists such as Robert Redford and even censures from the US government. They went ahead with the sale, closing in on $1.3 million.
“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 last week.
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