What do the humpbacked bull Nandi, the eagle serpent Cuauhcoatl, a featherwork Madonna, and a Vishnu from South India all have in common? They are all precursors to the exhibitions that will soon be on display in the Humboldt Forum. From October 2018 until May 2019, the first 15 Humboldt Forum Highlights will be displayed to the public in two different formats: in a series of public discussions, and in an exhibition on the Museumsinsel Berlin and at the Kulturforum featuring eight objects from the collections of the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

The project will see the Hindu god Vishnu will be surrounded by the gods of Antiquity in the Altes Museum (until 3 February 2019). In the Neues Museum, highlight objects from America and Micronesia will be on display, with a representative of the earliest known cultures of Mesoamerica juxtaposed with a so-called barrigón figure from Guatemala in the Greek courtyard . The Aztec eagle serpent Cuauhcoatl – to this day one of Mexico’s most important national symbols – takes up residence surrounded by Egyptian pharaohs. The detailed images on a Mayan vase resemble a comic, depicting the mythic triumphs and defeats of their most important leaders. The Colombian cacique, a golden ritual receptacle of the Quimbaya people, places the focus on the meaning of objects beyond their material properties. The figure of Sope on the other hand almost resembles a Modernist sculpture, yet it is in fact an example of the diverse ritual culture of Micronesia. But it’s the processional bull Nandi that receives the most prominent position, finding a temporary home in the middle of the Processional Way of Babylon in the Pergamonmuseum.

From 27 November to 24 February 2019, a finely fashioned featherwork Madonna from the Mexican town of Pátzcuaro will be on display in the Gemäldegalerie, an object which Alexander von Humboldt is said to have brought back from his trip to the Americas. It can be seen as evidence of the interwoven histories of Spanish and Mexican culture, for the artwork combines the pre-Spanish Mexican traditions of featherwork with Christian motifs.

What value did these objects have for the people whose lives they have formed a part of? What meaning do they possess today? In addition to the exhibition, the objects will serve as points of reference for a series of public discussions in which curators and experts will provide insights into the diverse world of the Humboldt Forum. The series will be launched by an evening of discussions on Friday 26 October 2018 in the Pergamonmuseum. More events will follow, including dates in the Gemäldegalerie (5 December 2019), the Altes Museum (31 January 2019) and the Neues Museum (4 April 2019), and in other locations around the city. Entry to the discussion evenings is free. Due to limited capacity, we recommend that you register in advance.

Inspired by its namesakes Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt and their passion for exploring the world with curiosity and for viewing it as an interwoven system of nature and culture, the Humboldt Forum will be a new site for experiences, encounters and learning. The Humboldt Forum Highlights provide prime examples of the diversity of the topics that will be gathered together in the centre of Berlin – topics relating to science and the arts, to nature and culture, history and society – and of the range of perspectives represented, from the past and the present, from near and far. As material artefacts, they offer a first sense of the range of fascinating histories and contemporary questions that are connected with them. And we’ll have to wait and see what other, entirely unexpected connections might be waiting to be discovered.