The project is part of the experimental research project DecolonizeM21, which is dedicated to the contents and contextualisation of the exhibition module 21 at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, which features archaeological objects from contemporary Peru. The “Museum Nullius” (empty museum) is a symbolic return of 56,199 objects to Peru from the ethnographic collection of the Berlin Humboldt Forum.
The DecolonizeM21 (“Intervention M 21: Am Humboldtstrom – Sammeln im 19. Jahrhundert” /“The Humboldt Current - Collections in the 19th Century") working group consists of nine predominantly Latin American artists. The experimental research project is a co-operation between the National Museums in Berlin - Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Art in Context at the Berlin University of the Arts, which is funded by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.
The Museum Nullius sub-project began with a performance in the Humboldt Forum's Lustgarten, in which copies of the objects belonging to Peru were cut out of the collection's photo archive over a two-week period. Based on the audience's feedback on this performance, artist Natalia Rodriguez Ramirez from Bogotá, who is currently completing her master's degree at the Berlin University of the Arts in the Institute for Art in Context, wished to learn about public opinion in Berlin regarding restitution of the cultural heritage of countries with a colonial past. The fundamental question was: should they stay or be sent back?
In a second step, online surveys were conducted in Peru as an alternative to the originally planned workshops that could not be held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These inquired about Peruvians' positions on the objects in Berlin, their current cultural value and the need for re-socialisation in the event of their return. The surveys gathered the views of more than 60 people in the form of texts and voice notes that touched on topics such as education, conservation and tradition.
In collaboration with the Vichama Theatre in Villa el Salvador and with the support of the Goethe Institut Lima, a photo intervention in public space was created, revealing Peruvians' opinions and cultural connections with their cultural heritage and on the possible return of the objects to Peru.
Based on this metaphor of return, in which the art of America, Asia, Oceania and Africa goes back to its places of origin, the museum becomes an empty museum, a Museum Nullius. The documentation of the project and the results of the interventions will be presented in the form of a video in Module 21 of the Humboldt Forum.