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Arch admassu khadijaanntarver sp23 02

On restitution and unbuilding

The site stands on unreliable earth. The Humboldt Forum and the structures that pre-date it, are part of a nearly 900 year span of precarity. Given the exponentially quickening turn over of land use, demolition, and reconstructions of the Berlin Palace, the next unbuilding began in 2024. Activists and members of the colonial diaspora in Berlin seized the Humboldt Forum through squatter rights to occupy unused or empty buildings - to not only imagine a new world, but enact it. The former Forum was densified with programming and unbuilt where space was rendered undesirable by stewards. The facade was peeled away and auctioned off to provide a funding vehicle for the interior. And rather than a reconstructed Palace, the Forum best represented a commitment to restitution–both material and immaterial–when it was an occupied construction site: Irresolute and a bit dangerous.

To precipitate its unbuilding, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation relinquished their control over the “ethnographic and Asian art” collection at the Humboldt Forum to their critics. They decided to fully commit to decolonization and, in particular, reckon with their colonial legacy. Inspired by their participation in the theft of the Mandu Yenu throne from the Bamum kingdom, they made their own gift.