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Visiting the depot

June 4, 2019

Against the current: Francis La Flesche and the „Umóⁿhoⁿ“ (Omaha)

"We are still here" is the core message of the indigenous Nation of the Omaha from North America. At the end of 2020 one of the first temporary exhibitions will open at the Humboldt Forum creating a link between past and present by showing 60 objects from the everyday life of the Omaha.

The name Omaha or Umóⁿhoⁿ means “those who go against the current”. The Omaha are one of 573 federally recognised Native Nations in the United States located in North-eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa. To this day, their lives are marked by experiences of colonialism, racism and violence. Owing to the policy of assimilation pursued by the United States towards its indigenous population groups, the Omaha wage a daily battle to keep their traditions and their language alive. At the end of 2020, as one of the first five temporary exhibitions to be shown at the Humboldt Foruman, an exhibition with a collection of 60 Omaha objects will open on the Humboldt Forum's 2nd floor.

Francis La Flesche and the Umóⁿhoⁿ

From 1894 to 1898, the indigenous ethnologist Francis La Flesche compiled the collection representing “his own Umóⁿhoⁿ culture” on behalf of the then Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde, today the Ethnologisches Museum of the SMB. It is the earliest example of self-representation on the part of an indigenous North American culture.

Today the objects in the collection are the connecting link between past and present and the historical starting point for a new chapter in the relationship between the Omaha and Berlin. It is an opportunity to reconnect with the ancestors and their way of life and to look and present their history with pride. Today, the exhibition is, above all, a means to convey their core message: “We are still here!”

Visiting the depot
Pierre Merrick
Objects from the collections
Visiting the Humboldt Forum

Exchange and collaboration

The exhibition at the Humboldt Forum is being produced conjointly with the Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC) and members of the Omaha. Visitors will gain an insight into the world views espoused by the Omaha which will also be reflected in the architecture and design of the exhibition.

The first of the temporary exhibitions falling within the remit of the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss will be developed using objects from the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum of the SMB: while some of the exhibits will be on display for the first time, all of them will respond to various current issues, one of which relates to the provenance of the objects. The exhibitions are currently being devised by the SHF and SMB together with a range of primarily international partners in a process that is designed to be open-ended.

For the general director of the Humboldt Forum, Hartmut Dorgerloh, the temporary exhibitions are a clear example of “how we want to work at the Humboldt Forum. It is not the case that we determine the narrative ourselves; rather, we work closely together with communities in the countries of origin to develop a concept, engaging in a constant process of exchange – which means that the outcome is also open. I am looking forward to seeing the results.”

According to Lars-Christian Koch, director of collections for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin im Humboldt Forum, “The joint work with the Nebraska Indian Community College and representatives of the Omaha on these unique holdings is a perfect illustration of how important historical collections at the Ethnologisches Museum still are today and exemplifies the wealth of possibilities offered by exhibitions devised in collaboration with societes of origin. These cooperations have been a fixture in the work of the Ethnologisches Museum for many years and will also be a characteristic feature of the Humboldt Forum. The exchange of information and knowledge makes it possible for us to reconstruct the former significance and function of particular objects, to incorporate current interpretations and perspectives and thus recontextualise and reorganize the collections acccordingly.”

Exhibition space for the 60 objects from the everyday life of the Omaha

The Humboldt Forum's temporary exhibitions

The temporary exhibitions at the Humboldt Forum will open in late 2020 on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Together with the adjoining “intro rooms”, they will be under the responsibility of the Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss. The spaces allocated to the temporary exhibitions and the intro rooms together comprise some 3,500 m². They will be located between the permanent exhibitions organized by the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Asian Art Museum) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (SMB), which occupy an area of approximately 14.000 m².

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