Kanak Emmanuel Kasarhérou, new president of the Quai Branly museum

Emmanuel Kasarhérou, appointed on May 27, 2020 president of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum. Here in 2013, during the “Kanak. Art is a word ”. Alexandra Lebon © musée du quai Branly

Text by: Siegfried Forster

The presidency of the great French museum of non-Western cultures remains French, but changes continent with the appointment of a Kanak curator. Emmanuel Kasarhérou, a supporter of building a "shared identity", was appointed this Wednesday, May 27, in the Council of Ministers, at the head of the musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, in Paris.


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Some still remember Kanak. Art is a word at the Quai Branly museum. The most important exhibition ever held on Kanak culture was the fruit of thirty years of research and the will of Emmanuel Kasarhérou.

Seven years later, at the age of 60, the former director of the Tjibaou Cultural Center in Nouméa took the reins of the flagship of the African, oceanic and Asian collections in France, for which Kasarhérou had been responsible for coordination since 2014 scientist at Quai Branly.

High place for the dialogue of cultures and the debate on restitution

First Kanak to direct a large metropolitan museum, Emmanuel Kasarhérou must ensure the succession of Stéphane Martin who had transformed the institution since its opening in 1998 into a center of dialogue of cultures with a policy of voluntary acquisitions and research and exhibitions internationally famous.

At the same time, the Quai Branly museum is also at the heart of the debate on restitution, decided by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, during a visit to Ouagadougou. In their report to the French president in 2018, Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy listed 90,000 pieces acquired by France during the colonization.

Since then, the debate has been open and very lively between supporters of the inalienability of works and followers of a policy of circulation and exchange of collections or activists for a definitive and unconditional return of the pieces in question. With the appointment of a Kanak specialist to the presidency, the government has taken into account Stéphane Martin's wish to “  colorize  ” the museum. The appointment of this expert on Oceanic cultures allows a certain "decontinentalization" of the management while avoiding too polarizing the debate around restitution by appointing an expert on African cultures or of African origin.

Son of a Kanak father and a metropolitan mother

Born in Noumea, in 1960, to a Kanak father and a metropolitan mother, Emmanuel Kasarhérou occupies an important place in the cultural history of this indigenous people of New Caledonia. In 1985, he was appointed to direct the museum of New Caledonia, in Nouméa, during the civil war. Twenty years later, he was appointed director of the Tjibaou Cultural Center, a tribute to Jean-Marie Tjibaou, founder of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), murdered in 1989. Inaugurated in 1998 by François Mitterrand, the the opening of this great oceanic cultural center was both a cultural and political gesture to mark the agreement of Noumea.

Today, his appointment to the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac is also part of the Elysée's reconciliation policy. In 2018, President Macron was the first president of the Fifth Republic to travel to Ouvéa to commemorate the deadly assault in 1988 against the separatists after a hostage of gendarmes on the spot. September 6 is scheduled a referendum on the independence of this French community in Oceania as part of the decolonization process of the so-called Noumea agreement.

"It is essential to assume the colonial history of our country"

In 2013, during the exhibition on Kanak art, Kasarhérou declared at the microphone of rfi.fr that "  it is essential for me to assume the colonial history of our country  ", recalling that the Noumea Accord meant the end of French guardianship. “  What is most important for us is to project ourselves with these references as elements that participate in the construction of a shared identity. We cannot choose a destiny in which we will continue to perpetuate a discourse which has annihilated us and made our heritage foreign to us. It must be assumed, the French and the Kanaks. "

The @quaibranly museum is an international reference. Specialist in art and civilizations of the Oceanian world, Emmanuel Kasarhérou will endeavor to continue and strengthen the "dialogue of cultures" dear to President Chirac. He has our full confidence. @VidalFrederique https://t.co/AdUdqMR7PR

  Franck Riester (@franckriester) May 27, 2020

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"Kanak", a political and cultural exhibition at the Quai Branly museum