The documentary Die Indianer kommen (“The Indians are coming”), broadcasted by the German television channel ZDF on December 2015, recounts the controversy that arose when a delegation from the indigenous Kogui or Kábaga community in the Sierra Nevada in northern Colombia travelled to Berlin to recover two sacred masks belonging to the community, that had been kept in the Dahlem Ethnological Museum in Berlin for 100 years.
The request for restitution was prompted by the planned transfer of the ethnographic collection to a new space that will soon open in the city centre: the Humboldt Forum. With a construction budget of around 650 million euros, the Humboldt Forum is one of the most ambitious and expensive cultural projects in Germany in recent years. The headquarters are modeled after a reproduction of the former Berlin Royal Palace, which belonged to the Hohenzollern dynasty. This dynasty, who until 1918 was among the most important ruling families in Germany, was linked to the European division of Africa and is thus a symbol of German colonialism. The Humboldt Forum will house the collections of the Museum of Asian Art and the Ethnological Museum in Dahlem. The Dahlem collection, like that of so many other Western museums, consists of private collections from the 19th century obtained from the plundering and pillaging of territories under colonial influence.
Since the visit of the Koguis to Dahlem, many voices have joined the criticism against the plans to open the Humboldt Forum and have demanded a decolonization of the museum, including the restitution of many of its pieces. In 2017, French art historian Bénédicte Savoy left the museum’s advisory board. She denounced a lack of critical review by the Humboldt Forum under the leadership of director Neil MacGregor, former director of the equally controversial British Museum in London.