Past events
{{ time.start_TS | TS2dateFormat('DD') }}
{{ time.start_TS | TS2dateFormat('MMM') }}
{{ time.start_TS | TS2dateFormat('YYYY') }}

The elephant is simultaneously both a creature to be admired and an endangered species. Its ivory tusks have been an object of desire across all cultures and eras.

What you will find

Ivory fascinates us – and polarises us. As far back as 40,000 years ago, humans were using mammoth tusks to create sophisticated representational figures and musical instruments. The popularity of the material continues to this day. But the tusks from these animals also represent injustice and violence: ivory is inextricably linked with the exploitation of both people and nature, the threat of elephant extinction, poaching and organised crime.

The Terrible Beauty. Elephant – Human – Ivory programme sets out to tackle this complex topic and creates lines of connection to one of the core themes of the Humboldt Forum: colonialism and coloniality. It includes an exhibition, educational events, discussion and film programmes, and a richly illustrated publication. There will also be a themed day when the entire Humboldt Forum will be devoted to the topic of elephant, human and ivory.

The exhibition
20 July 2021 – 23 January 2022

Using novel formats and a wide range of perspectives, this exhibition presents the interrelationship of elephant, human and ivory. In a world- and epoch-spanning narrative, it progresses from small to large: from ivory artwork to the image of the tusk right up to the entire animal, linking the cultural significance of ivory with its natural history, as well as the social and ecological consequences of its use.

To the exhibition

Tours and workshops
from September

What does ivory actually feel like? How heavy is a tusk? And what does the extinction of elephants and the hunting of ivory have to do with me? Answers to these and many other questions are provided by the diverse educational and outreach programme, which is aimed at visitors with varying interests and needs. Public tours take place five times a week, we offer a multisensory tour focussing on the material itself, and groups can get an overview in our one-hour tours. Workshops are available for school groups to address the topic more intensively. Our public and bookable tours set the theme of ‘Elephant – Human – Ivory’ in an ethical, global and post-colonial context.

To the tours and workshops

Film series
from October

An elephant is an imposing creature – no wonder, that our impressions have so often been projected onto it in films. This series of around 20 documentaries, animated and feature films from Europe, North America, Africa and Asia show this animal in wide range of roles. Each screening begins with a very personal story: people from all around the world, telling the story of their particular relationship with the film. Sundays will feature films particularly suited for children and families.

To the film series

Discussion series
from October

The relationship between elephant, human and ivory has a great deal to say about our general relationship with nature and the environment. What opportunities are there to re-frame our attitude towards nature, instead of thinking about it as something detached from our own existence? A discussion forum of diverse voices will pursue these questions from popular, socio-political and scientific perspectives. International perspectives from regions where the animals live, are protected or are hunted, will of course be included.

To the discussion series

Themed day
January 2022 – cancelled

An entire day devoted to nature, culture and environment: From the Foyer to the Stair Hall to the workrooms, there will be tours, discussions, workshops, theatre, performance and music. In a programme for the whole family, we will expand on the theme of the exhibition: Science fans can find out about the chemical process involved in the production of artificial ivory, performances will take place throughout the building, videos will question our attitude to ivory and children can attend workshops throughout the day.


A richly illustrated publication Terrible Beauty: Elephant – Human – Ivory addresses all the themes in the exhibition. Text and image contributions from international authors and artists pose questions about our responsibility towards the animal itself, the ivory objects and how we address the past.

Contributors include Asher Jay, Nanette Snoep and Ai Weiwei.

To the publication


Everything at a glance