The Hopi nation of native Americans is outraged about a recent sale of Hopi masks whose sale was approved by a French court and sold at auction for $1.2 million. The Hopis consider these masks sacred, unlike the art world which considers them mere cultural artifacts which can be bought and sold.
When Margaret Mead and Bronislaw Malinowski, two pioneer cultural anthropologists, went to Papua New Guinea and the Trobriand Islands in the 1920s and 1930s they expressed admiration for the art they found there. They were met with the response “Art? What is that?” It was inconceivable to the tribespeople that their objects of religious devotion and sacred ritual could be separated from ceremony and spiritual functions, becoming the whiteman’s commodities and cultural curiosities.