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Zuni Museum Director Responds to the Auctioning of Hopi and Zuni Masks in Paris

Jim Enote
3/13/13

In the late 1800s and early 1900s ethnographers, anthropologists, and associates of museums and private collectors were dispatched to Zuni to collect items that represented the ceremonial and ritualistic aspects of our culture. This was no simple and painless undertaking because items ceremonially made and used in our religious ceremonies are never to be sold or traded. Nevertheless some Zuni ceremonial items were looted from Zuni and found their way into a few collections. Around this time non-native traders living in Zuni recognized the demand for Zuni ceremonial objects and the opportunity to benefit from this appetite. It didn’t take long before at least one trader launched a small underground industry to produce fake Zuni ceremonial items.

After carefully examining thousands of “ceremonial” objects including Zuni masks held in museums and private collections throughout the world our museum staff and Zuni religious leaders confirmed that a substantial number of objects labeled as ceremonial are actually fakes or misidentified as ceremonial. If the shameless business of dealing in looted antiquities and the bad karma that goes with it isn’t enough, let me say to the auctioneers and possible purchasers of the 71 Hopi and Zuni masks to be auctioned by Neret-Minet in Paris, it’s buyer beware because the only way to absolutely authenticate a Zuni ceremonial object is to seek truth at the source by having Zuni experts, the people of the source community themselves, physically inspect the object. But that is unlikely in the case of a private auction overseas. So a carrier and potential buyer can only be assured of one thing, they may have a fake.   

Let’s bid farewell to the deceptions, plundering, and pain brought on by this exploitive and unethical trade in sacred objects. Let’s bury the fault line between medieval self-indulgence and the vanguards of morality and respect for indigenous peoples everywhere. Make the trade in sacred antiquities illegal everywhere.

Jim Enote is the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Zuni, New Mexico.

 

 

 

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Anonymous's picture
Its possible and a good way to market anti-selling of potential artifacts/objects. If the artifacts/objects were in fact obtained by anthropologists, there is a record of provience. The record has clearly shown that tribal members have and will sell objects to just about anyone, when dire times are at hand, or to feed negative habits. In the end, its just words against words. Sadly.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
It is so sad to hear about all this but in reality we don't know if our ancestors sold there mask we don't know that but like our grandma and grandpa use to say it's all bad luck. Just leave the mask were there at now and let them suffer on how they would be treated. No wonder there are already bad things happening to them we don't want there bad luck to come here to the Pueblo.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
The "record," as you mention, has also clearly indicated that items of ceremonial importance have been unethically obtained from archaeological sites and Native peoples, and this practice continues today despite laws in the U.S. to prevent such practices. There is existing research on Hopi and Zuni ceremonial items, in this case, katsina friends, where one can find scholarly references to the production of replicas (i.e., fake katsina "masks") that have found their way into museum collections as well as collector's hands. The intention of this commentary, in my opinion, is to provide another perspective as to why the selling of these katsina friends is problematic, not to dissuade people from participating in an antiquities market that is based on ethical considerations of existing laws, declarations, and indigenous customs and laws. Furthermore, Mr. Enote speaks from vast experience since he has visually inspected thousands of collection items from major institutions worldwide. I commend him for speaking out on a subject that demands attention.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Jim Enote has written an eloquent statement in regard to the auctioning of 71 Hopi and Zuni masks in Paris. While their authenticity remains moot, nonetheless, they are objects which ethically should not appear on auction blocks. In many cases a simple photograph is sufficient to ascertain authenticity since a number of masks are of sacred personages wherein each is represented by a single ancient mask; in contrast, in other instances numerous masks are extant representing the same kachina (many individually owned). Regardless--NONE should leave their origin place. T.R. Frisbie, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, SIUE
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
What can the Hopi tribe do to take a stand? is this even an option? I listened to a Hopi man last night who was very frustrated his cultural preservation office and council were not making a presence known or voicing concern about this upcoming auction. We as native people have sat back and let things fall as they must but what about being proactive--idle no more? Has the Hopi people contacted the collector or auction personnel?
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This is a very important issue, and the points raised by Jim should reverberate through the arts and antiquities markets. Questions of title and authenticity are always present when objects are bought and sold, The markets should pay much more attention to whether indigenous objects should be on the market at all and they should seek authentication from the true experts - those who are part of the communities from which the objects originate. I hope the auction house does the right thing and pulls the items from auction while it confers with Zuni and Hopi authorities.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I wonder if Jim Enote has ever been in the back storage rooms of Joe Milo's Pawn shop (liquor/grocery/jewelry supply store) located between Zuni and Ramah Nanvajo Community. His statement "never to be sold or traded" is out the window as there are hundreds of ceremonial items that have been pawned at Joe Milo's. I've been in the back rooms so I have personally seen what this pawn shop has.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
All is is very confusing,from my french point of view.Jim seems to suggest these are fakes,so what is wrong in selling them?Then the hopi tribal chairman asked the auction house to postone the sale(not cancell it)to check if the masks were legally obtained.Implying they could indeed have been legally obtained,which is not what other hopi are saying.And why did not the Hopi filed an injunction in french court to stop the sale?
Anonymous