Decolonizing the Humboldt Forum

“The Indians Are Coming”? The “Indians” Have Come To Reclaim!

The platform “Devuelve, pe!” seeks to add a Latin American perspective into the various criticisms against the new ethnological museum in the Humboldt Forum in Berlin.

Although about one-third of the Dahlem museum’s collection originates from Latin America, demands for restitution from this region of the world –like those of the Kogui– have not been as numerous as those from African communities, where the German colonial heritage, and European heritage in general, produced more evident traces.

In 2018, a task force emerged at the Institute for Art in Context at the Berlin University of the Arts Berlin (UdK) seeking to organize and amplify critical Latin American voices in the face of the Humboldt Forum. The initiative emerged in response to an invitation from Manuela Fischer, curator of the South American collection at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin and also part of the Humboldt Forum curating team, to make artistic interventions in the museum’s permanent collection.

Under the coordination of artist and teacher Kristina Leko, seven artists, mostly of Latin American origin, are currently developing different initiatives and critical projects in front of the museum. In July 2019, artist Natalia Rodríguez organized a week-long performance in front of the Humboldt Forum, cutting out photographs of the more than 30,000 objects belonging to the museum. The performance was a symbolic act of restitution with a clear questioning of the institution and its public: should the collections return to their places of origin?

In November that year, in the same space in front of the museum, different Latin American immigrant collectives in Berlin came together in a ritual protest on the occasion of the “Dia de los muertos” (Night of the Dead). The happening was the culmination of “Humboldthuaca”, a project coordinated by Daniela Rodriguez and Pablo Santacana, in which living culture and its voice are vindicated within the museum. The ritual protest focused on demanding the restitution of the pre-Hispanic Mallqui mummy from Chuquitanta, a sacred ancestor from what is now Peru, whose presence at the Humboldt Forum raises several questions: What does it mean to exhibit indigenous human remains in European museums? Are we respectful of other cultures? Do Europeans –as well as Latin Americans themselves– understand the colonial heritage?

In order to further examine these questions, the DecolonizeM21 working group has created Devuelve, pe!, a platform offering more information about the struggle for the return of the Mallqui, along with other initiatives and experiences of decolonization of the Humboldt Forum.

On July 11, 2020, through different social networks and on the DecolonizeM21 website, various experts will share their experiences of decolonization of the museum in a debate with the co-curator Manuela Fischer. Participants at this meeting include Tahir Della (Nohumboldt21, Berlin), Arlette-Louise Ndakoze (Savvy Contemporary, Berlin), Juana Londoño (Colombia), Rossana Poblet (Peru), Elizabeth Salguero ( Bolivia) and Xokonoschtletl Gómora (Mexico).

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Pablo Santacana (Madrid, 1991) is a designer and visual artist, as well as a member of DecolonizeM21.

Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen