The Acoma Pueblo Nation located in New Mexico and The Hoopa Valley Tribal Nation of California have announced their opposition to a scheduled sale next week of close to 500 artifacts at Paris' EVE auction house.
They want the sale stopped and the artifacts returned. "This is not a work of art," Governor Kurt Riley of the Acoma Pueblo Nation told AFP, explaining how the Acoma view the objects up for sale. "This is a religious item that is dear to us. And when it's gone, it's like a piece of ourselves goes missing." The tribes have the support of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian and the US departments of Interior and State. The EVE auction house did not respond to a request for an interview. "In the absence of clear documentation and clear consent of the tribes themselves, these objects should not be sold," Mark Taplin of the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs told a Tuesday press conference in Washington. Taplin said US authorities have been talking with their French counterparts since the auctions began in 2013, "But I must say we are still awaiting a response from the French side." The battle is both cultural and legal. Selling Native American artifacts in the United States is either highly restricted or illegal, depending on the objects and where they were recovered. And tribes have said that such sales are offensive insofar as they expose treasured and sacred objects to public commerce. "These items are part of our daily lives and on certain occasions these are used in ceremony," Riley said. Tracking artifacts has become easier thanks to the Internet, he said, and the Acoma have stepped up efforts to recover them. "We've been successful in the United States to recoup some of those items," he said. "It's in France that they've not been receptive to our position."
Considered living beings
There have been numerous Paris auctions of Native American artifacts. In June 2014, nine masks from the Hopi tribe sold for a total of 137,313 euros ($187,000), with one 19th century mask alone fetching 37,500 euros.
French judges have supported the auctioneers' view that selling the artifacts is legal -- since no French law expressly prohibits them -- and have refused to stop auctions when tribes have sued.
But American tribes see the sales as an affront to their religion and culture, rooted in wrongs that date back hundreds of years when settlers pillaged artifacts. Many of the sacred items are believed to contain spirits, such as the masks sold in 2014, considered living beings by the Hopi people and worn by dancers during religious ceremonies. "It's amazing what's left our communities," D. Bambi Kraus of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers told the Washington news conference. Kraus said members of her organization have been reviewing auction listings, and have been astonished. "They're seeing things they didn't even know existed that were being now sold overseas," she said. Kraus specifically objected to one item in next week's auction, lot #206 described as a warrior jacket of scalps. "In our world, if that's human remains, you cannot sell human remains. It's just not the thing to do," Kraus said. Conroy Chino, a Native American political and strategic consultant who is Acoma, said they have tried to explain their position to the French auction regulator, the Conseil des Ventes, but the agency has ruled that Native American groups do not have legal standing on French soil. "We've been quite dismayed," Chino told AFP. "It creates a black market when French authorities don't take it upon themselves" to stop the sales, he said.
'No law violated'
In a letter to US authorities this month, Riley said many of the 443 items scheduled for sale in Paris are "from the Hopi Tribe, Zuni Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo, or other Ancestral Pueblos that are within our respective cultural provinces and with which we maintain a strong, deep connection." The US embassy in Paris has tried to intervene. In 2014, it held an informational session on the cultural and religious significance of artifacts, and why Native American groups find their sale objectionable. In 2013, the embassy called for a halt to another EVE auction, saying tribes should have time to examine artifacts to see if they can be recovered under a UNESCO convention against the illicit trafficking of cultural property. But EVE defended the auction, saying that "no American law has been violated." The sale went ahead, fetching 520,375 euros ($714,180) for 24 Hopi masks. The US has two federal laws, passed in 1990 and 1979, that offer protection for Native American artifacts. But the laws do not explicitly ban their export.
New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce has introduced a resolution in the US House of Representatives asking federal agencies to do more to address the theft of tribal artifacts, as well as their trafficking domestically and internationally.
Eve Catalog: http://www.auctioneve.com/flash/index.jsp?id=26939&idCp=101&lng=fr
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2. ANGOLA Collector Is Trying to Buy Back Artifacts Looted in Angola’s Civil War at Yesterday’s Prices
March 14, 2016 by Marion Maneker
Georgina Adam reports that Sindika Dokolo, who is married to the richest person in Angola, is on a campaign to repatriate works to the Dundo Museum, an Angolese institution founded in the 1930s and eventually gathering 6,000 Chokwe works that were scattered in Angola’s civil war nearly 50 years ago:
He is prepared to pay for them from a war chest he has set up, funded by African businessmen. But he won’t pay today’s prices. Dokolo has enlisted two dealers in tribal art to help him, Didier Claes
and Tao Kerefoff, and regularly monitors art fairs and auction catalogues. Last month he recuperated a 19th-century Chokwe mask of a young woman, a Mwana Pwo, from a French dealer, paying €80,000 instead of the €600,000 the dealer was asking for it, after threatening legal action. He is negotiating with a second dealer over another Chokwe statue, this time priced at €1m but which Dokolo wants to buy back for €50,000.
Mwana Pwo mask, c. late 19th /early 20th century © courtesy of Fundação Sindika Dokolo.
LUANDA.- Fundação Sindika Dokolo announced another momentous acquisition of a looted Mwana Pwo mask made by the Chokwe people of Angola. This important work from the 19th century was discovered in Paris and originally formed part of a collection that belonged to the Dundo Museum in Angola. The mask is one of many pieces stolen from the museum’s collection which has led Fundação Sindika Dokolo initiatives in recovering looted classical works with the aims of returning them back to the continent. The Mwana Pwo mask was purchased in February from a French dealer following an agreement in which this significant work will be returned to its original home at the Dundo museum. The piece was sourced by Belgian art dealer Didier Claes who traced the mask’s provenance having identified the work through an image from the esteemed art scholar Marie-Louise Bastin’s book Art De´coratif Tshokwe: Museu do Dundo published in 1961. Furthermore, Fundação Sindika Dokolo is in negotiations about purchasing a fourth Mwana Pwo mask which has been found in a private collection in Europe.
Sindika Dokolo says, “Now is the time for all of Angola's lost cultural treasures to return home, where they can play their role to the full; a role that will help strengthen Angola's culture and knowledge, and enhance and increase our country’s heritage. As a foundation promoting arts and cultural accomplishments, we will pursue our efforts in expanding our public mission of recovering the history of our ancestry and enriching it in every aspect, as well as, our continuous work in supporting the young and upcoming generation of artists.” Before the Mwana Pwo mask is returned to the museum, it will travel to Luanda where it will be displayed alongside three further looted pieces acquired last year by Fundação Sindika Dokolo at the newly built Museo da Moeda (Currency museum) in Luanda as part of La Triennale di Luanda next month.
Fundação Sindika Dokolo was established by businessman and art collector Sindika Dokolo in Luanda, Angola in 2006. Born in Kinshasa to a Congolese father and Danish mother, he began building one of the most important collections in Africa in 2003 which now holds more than 5000 works of classical and contemporary art from the continent.
4. LONDON.- A very fine Safavid tinned copper bowl which had been looted from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul was presented to the Embassy of Afghanistan in London for return to Kabul. The bowl, dating to the early 17th century, was lost during the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s. It was bought in good faith in December 1994 from an Afghan antique dealer in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) by Patrick and Paola von Aulock who owned it for twenty years before deciding to sell it when they contacted Christie’s for a valuation. The bowl was identified by Sara Plumbly, Specialist and Head of Christie’s Islamic Art department as being a piece from the museum in Kabul. The bowl had been published in 1974 by Souren Melikian-Chirvani and was included in his catalogue of Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World (Melikian-Chrivani 1982).
Christie’s gave permission for the bowl to be examined by the British Museum. The Museum confirmed the provenance and negotiations were entered into with the current owners and with the National Museum of Afghanistan to return the bowl to Kabul. This return is all the more significant as much of the Islamic metalware collection of the National Museum of Afghanistan was lost during a devastating fire following a rocket strike on the museum in November 1995. The National Museum
This bowl was scientifically analysed at the British Museum with the permission of the owners and the National Museum of Afghanistan. It shows that the bowl was manufactured by casting, with some additional working and use of a lathe for finishing. Analysis using surface X-ray fluorescence spectrometry confirmed that the bowl is largely of copper and the white metal plating is tinning. The decoration was engraved and was finely executed. A black material has been applied to the engraved design, which although it could not be firmly identified, is likely to be related to the organic black inlays seen on many brass bowls.
Sara Plumbly, Head of the Islamic Department at Christie’s in London, said “Christie’s are delighted to have played a role in facilitating the return of this work to the Kabul museum and we would like to extend our thanks to the previous owners Mr. and Mrs von Aulock for their collaboration. This is a good example of where research, cooperation and a wish to facilitate the right solution has succeeded. Christie’s maintains its on-going commitment in this area and takes matters of cultural property very seriously”.
St John Simpson, Assistant Keeper in the Department of the Middle East, British Museum said “This is another important step in the rebuilding of the National Museum of Afghanistan and we are delighted to have played a small part in the return of this important object to Kabul”.
His Excellency Ahmad Zia Siamak, Chargé d’ Affaires at the Embassy of Afghanistan said “On behalf of the people of Afghanistan, the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in London would like to express its gratitude to the British Museum, Christie’s and the owners for their role in returning a historic artefact to the National Museum of Afghanistan. During the civil war, the National Museum of Afghanistan was looted and destroyed, and during the last few years, the government of Afghanistan has attempted to revive the museum. The return of this piece, which used to be displayed in a showcase of the National Museum of Afghanistan for many years, has a high historic and intellectual value for the people of Afghanistan. Its forthcoming display in the National Museum will not only please our people, but is a valuable step in the restoration of the museum. We thank the British Museum once again for facilitating the return of this important object and for its invaluable assistance to the National Museum of Afghanistan”.
Fahim Rahimi, Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan said “I hope returning this bowl will be a start for more artefacts to be recovered, not only those looted from museums as well those looted from archaeological sites in Afghanistan. I ask those collectors who keep artefacts from Afghanistan to help us return it back and encourage the auction houses to always check their collections for looted objects from Afghanistan”.