An interview mit Natalja Majluf, director of the Lima Museum of Art, about the challenges and chances for the Humboldt Forum.
Natalia Majluf, you are part of the international network of scientists and museum experts chosen to support the Steering Committee of Humboldt Forum. As there are so many perspectives joined in your group — how do you find common grounds?
There isn’t always agreement on the points discussed, yet there need not be. It is perhaps better that this should be so, because we are an advisory group and the Steering Commitee benefits from the diversity of perspectives. It’s always difficult to discuss and compare things that are produced from within different discursive narratives, different political, and social situations. I personally prefer debating specificities and taking on issues historically, because this allows us to understand the particular social frictions, the conditions and the situations in which objects were produced and assembled. Paying attention to the particulars leads to successful engagement.
The Humboldt Forum faces great expectations given the multiplicity of narratives joined in this one building. What overall narrative do you advice the steering committee to chose?
The Humboldt Forum has such an ambitious proposal, about which there is so much public expectation, that I think the curators face an enormous challenge. This is also a great opportunity. I do believe in the liberty of curators to propose, and those proposals will of course be critically received and questioned. They will generate debates, and this is part of what museums should be in the business of doing. Museums do not need to seek general consensus, because then they become very boring places. In this respect, the Humboldt Forum has been from its inception, and remains a site of great discussion, even before its opening. Yet though a work in progress, there is so much heated debate, such intense dialogue, that it is already a productive space. I have found that there is an extraordinary disposition in the Steering Committee to hear the criticisms and questions being posed. This is what makes the project valid and exciting. I’m quite certain that, if not at its launching, within a very short period of time that potential will materialize in a very concrete and very interesting way. At least that is my hope.
One of the challenges is whom to address in Humboldt Forum: Local public, native communities, international experts? As with your work in Peru you are very experienced with opening up museum spaces — what would you recommend?
Berlin is already an international capital, it has a very diverse population, and there is an opportunity there. But what I think has not been adequately exploited yet is that in a museum we continue to be bound to national or local communities. I’m a big advocate of the local character of museums, yet that is never an obstacle for the kind of international engagement that is necessary for a project like this. The Humboldt Forum can develop new models of collaboration and exchange. Not just by bringing things to Berlin, but by sharing things, finding ways of cooperating in a world that is very asymmetrical, and where politics and logistics tend to work against equal conditions for any sort of dialogue. I think that there are a great number of opportunities for all sorts of exchange, for working together with universities, museums, and communities all over the world. This is where the Humboldt Forum could make the biggest difference. And if there is a real effort put into making this happen, it will have a tremendous impact for the museum world.
Alexander von Humboldt is one of the key figures of the future project — and still quite a hero in southern and middle America. What makes him so special, even today?
Humboldt is a symbol of a curiosity of mind, willingness to learn and a critical attitude. I think that he is an excellent symbol for a project that needs to open, curious and critical.
Natalia Majluf is an art historian from Peru. As director of the Lima Museum of Art she aims to bring the cultural legacy of her country to all social groups. For Majluf, the museum has a duty to educate, and is essential for young people’s development.
The interview was conducted by Christina Tilmann.