African sacred sculpture auction criticized

PARIS (AP) – A pair of Nigerian holy sculptures that a Nigerian museum commission and protesters claimed had been looted during the country’s civil war in the 1960s sold for € 212,500 ($ 239,000) at auction in Paris on Monday. The Igbo statues were sold by Christie’s auction house, which defended the auction and said they were legitimately acquired. A Princeton academic, Chika Okeke-Agulu, along with the Nigerian National Commission on Museums and Monuments, had sounded the alarm this month, noting that the objects were looted during the Biafra war in the late 1960s. More than 1 million people died in the war, many of them starving, trying to create a state for the Igbo people. The Igbo are one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. Okeke-Agulu, who belongs to the Igbo, said the items were stolen by “an act of violence” and should not be sold. An online petition with the hashtags BlackArtsMatter (black arts matter) and MyHeritageMatters (my heritage matters) received more than 3,000 signatures calling for the auction to stop. The petition stated: “As the world awakens to the reality of systematic injustice and inequality thanks to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we must not forget that it is not only the black body, but also the black culture, identity and especially the art of which they are misappropriating. ” In a statement to The Associated Press, the auction house said: “These objects are being sold legally after having been publicly displayed and sold in the past decades before Christie’s got involved.” Christie’s said it recognized the “complex debates over cultural property” but argued that this type of sale prevents black markets from flourishing. In recent years, French courts have ruled in favor of auction houses whose sales of sacred objects, such as Hopi tribe masks, have been criticized by activists and tribal representatives. Paris has a long history of collecting and selling tribal pieces, for its colonial past in Africa, and for Parisian groups in the 1960s, such as the “Indianista” movement that celebrated tribal and indigenous cultures. Interest in tribal art in Paris revived in the early 2000s after two large and lucrative sales of pieces from the Andre Breton and Robert Lebel collection.