Emmanuel Kasarherou was appointed in the Council of Ministers on May 27, 2020, and is the new president of the Quai Branly Museum. He takes office at a time marked by the Covid-19 crisis, but also by the debate over the restitution of African works. On the subject, the newcomer seems to already have his opinion. For him, clearly defining the origins of the said works is an indispensable prerequisite before any restitution.
A very eventful second quarter
The month of June was particularly hectic in the cultural world. The debate on the restitution of stolen African works was rekindled by the incident that took place within the Quai Branly Museum. A few days ago, five men went to the scene to tear down a Bari funeral post from Chad. In addition to this, the Black Lives Matter movement reminded us of the discrimination suffered by blacks around the world. In this very particular context, the appointment of Emmanuel Kasarherou as head of the Quai Branly has raised many hopes among restitution activists. Born of a French mother and a Kanak father, Stéphane Martin’s successor was formerly the head of the Kanak culture agency. In 2014, he was appointed Deputy Director of Heritage and Collections at the Musée du Quai Branly.
Disillusionment for activists for the restitution of African works of art
In an interview with the New York Times on June 5, Emmanuel Kasarherou judged the Sarr-Savoy report published in 2018 to be “very militant”. The new president of the Quai Branly then stated that it would not be the guideline for his action. Reactions were not long in coming. Felwine Sarr, one of the authors of the report, found his intervention “not very original” and quite close to the position of Stéphane Martin, his predecessor. For the Senegalese writer, it is time for concrete actions to be taken in favor of an effective restitution of works looted in Africa.
In another interview granted to Kanak art, Emmanuel Kasarherou nevertheless tried to reassure, while considering that the global approach of the Sarr-Savoy report constitutes one of its main limits. For him, he would not take into account each object in its singularity, but “considers the collections as a lot, as a collection ‘of the same'”. It could therefore not serve as a manual for a restoration policy.
A demarcation all the same with its predecessor
Unlike Stéphane Martin, who was more in favor of the circulation and sharing of the works of art concerned, Emmanuel Kasaherou believes that it is indeed possible that they will be returned. However, to achieve this, the new president of the Quai Branly suggests that scientific research be carried out to identify their precise origins. He recalls that many objects arrived at the Quai Branly Museum “after having passed through a second, third or even fourth hand, of which we sometimes know nothing”. In addition to the many political, legal, and logistical issues to be resolved, the expert believes that careful research is essential for the success of the project to return African works.
For the time being, Emmanuel Kasaherou plans to turn to his counterparts in African museums to discuss technical issues. For the rest, it will be up to the States to sit around a table and decide.