The former director of the Tjibaou Cultural Center in Noumea succeeds Stéphane Martin, who has been in office as president of the Parisian establishment since 1998.
By Roxana Azimi, Le Monde, 26/05/2020
Stéphane Martin’s replacement process was been opened in January, then delayed by the COVID confinement. According to our information, the Kanak Emmanuel Kasarhérou will be appointed Wednesday, May 27th, during the Council of Ministers, to the presidency of the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac, where he has held since 2014 the position of Director for the scientific coordination of collections .
This is a first : no Kanak has ever taken responsibility for a large mainland (French) museum. This is a strong symbolic act – the type that Emmanuel Macron likes and who in 2018 was the first President of the Republic to go to Ouvéa, thirty years after the deadly assault on the separatists holding gendarmes hostage. To heal this trauma, President Macron then planted a coconut palm, a symbol of life in Kanak culture and a sign of reconciliation. This spirit of harmony is embodied by Emmanuel Kasarhérou – a central figure in contemporary Caledonian cultural history. “He is a diplomat, a man of strength and restraint, praises Anthony Meyer, the Parisian dealer of Oceanic Art. He ( Emmanuel Kasarhérou ) likes to find solutions to issues and to work as a team. “
Born in 1960 in Noumea to a Kanak father and to Jacqueline de La Fontinelle, his French mainland mother – a linguist specializing in the Houailou language, the young Emmanuel Kasarhérou saw himself as the Indiana Jones of the Pacific. Passionate about prehistory and trained by the great oceanic archaeologist José Garanger (1926-2006), he participated in many archeological excavations.
Questioning the legitimacy of the collections
At the age of 25, in 1985 in the midst of the civil war (in New Caledonia), he became director of the museum of New Caledonia, in Noumea. Nine years later, Emmanuel Kasarhérou was caught up in a project as ambitious as it was political : the establishment of the Tjibaou Cultural Center, named after the founder of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), assassinated in 1989. The building, housing the immense oceanic cultural center and signed by the architect Renzo Piano, was inaugurated in 1998 as one of the last great political gestures by (President) François Mitterrand, as part of the Nouméa agreement, ten years after the Matignon agreement. Emmanuel Kasarhérou took over the direction in 2006, before becoming, five years later, chargé de mission for French overseas territories.
In 2013, he took his first steps at the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac by co-curating with Roger Boulay the exhibition “Kanak, art is a Statement”, a cutting-edge and yet down to earth exhibition that became a landmark for Kanak art. Of absolute aesthetic perfection, and offering exhibiting 300 pieces, the event coincided with the fifteenth anniversary of the Noumea agreement, marking the end of the French protectorate imposed in 1853. At the time, Emmanuel Kasarhérou reminded Le Monde (the French newspaper) that Kanaks had been placed in reservations as early as 1868, “a unique fact in French colonial history, which created a specific relationship with the territory“. However, the historian (Emmanuel Kasarhérou) is not “politically engaged, at least publicly,” said his friend Roger Boulay. And the former collaborator of the Kanak Culture Development Agency clarified : “In New Caledonia, Emmanuel had the confidence of everyone, he always consulted the elders, the representatives of large chiefdoms or those who played a role in the revival of Kanak culture. “
The questioning and approach of Emmanuel Kasarhérou on the history and the legitimacy of the collections will be invaluable, as work continues on the circulation of cultural goods between the North and the South, after the Sarr-Savoye report (2018) on the restitution of stolen works from Africa. “Emmanuel thinks it is important to share the heritage of humanity without getting caught up in words. He does not tell fables that would simplify things, “confides a relative, suggesting that he would be in line with the policies of Stéphane Martin, recently appointed as cultural advisor in Japan. In the immediate future, the new president (of the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac) will have to oversee the progressive deconfinement of the museum, at the end of June-beginning of July, according to our information, and will have to find a successor to Yves Le Fur, the current director of collections, who will soon reach retirement age.
(Rough translation from the French by AJPM)