Three years ago I wrote an article for Indian Country Today Media Network, which was titled “Naked Faux Savages and Neo-Racism in Berlin”, to which I posted a link here on my blog. A particular museum in Berlin has chosen to have a theater troupe perform a fake potlatch ceremony, in which naked performers sexualized their interpretation of such an indigenous gathering. The museum’s director Viola König continues to work for the Humboldt Forum project, and to me symbolizes all that is wrong with the project: the entire idea and still being built edifice to its colonial brutality hidden behind a “civilized” facade.
The challenge and reality is European museum directors, curators, supporters and others, including many of the European visitors have benefited from white privilege and supremacy for centuries, educated to believe this is civilized, conservative behavior to preserve what remains of certain cultures and peoples for posterity. This is the lie of the whole thing, and ignores the crimes against the survivors who have been petitioning and ignored though rightfully demanding their peoples objects be repatriated.
When anyone has been taught that culturally abuse, misinterpretation, misrepresentation and misattribution is normal, who have been taught to believe these things are civilized parts of their society, they keep perpetuating these crimes. Other challenges and realities is that there are persons who work for Humboldt forum and/or within the German (colonial) museum system who recognize and admit these are stolen items but who wish to keep their jobs.
On 15 October I will participate is a two-day event titled, “Prussian Colonial Heritage”, which discussions and challenges the continuing colonial practices and behaviors where Europeans justify and excuse the monumental crimes against other cultures, primarily those of people of color, and their refusal to return stolen objects, sacred items and even the remains of indigenous peoples and others. Protests against the project have continued before and since the foundation stone was laid in 2013, and the Humboldt Forum’s planned completion is 2019. Another protest is planned for 20 September, as members of various organizations such as Post-Kolonial Berlin, continue to work a forcible change in policy and protocols at HF and other museums.
From the 2014 article at ICTMN: “The Ethnological Museum continues to be the center of controversy regarding cultural insensitivity, misinformation and shock-value displays of indigenous items from around the world. One such was a display case of sacred Native items alongside a crushed Budweiser can and empty flask of whiskey, with a blurb stating that the biggest problem among Native Americans was alcoholism.
The museum’s director, Viola König, defended the sexualized performance and the museum’s collection. “Das Helmi were simply, playfully implementing all typical contemporary prejudices in a vivid, imaginative way to entertain,” she said. Regarding the controversial objects and displays in the museum, she said, “Organizers of the Humboldt Lab said, ‘Cultural appropriation is always a violent act, and direct or structural violence were likely used in acquiring many objects of our ethnological collections, but they still need to be shown.’”