Disappearance of Roger Boulay, ethnologist specializing in Kanak art

It is a figure of Oceanian ethnology who has just passed away: Roger Boulay died on Tuesday July 2nd of respiratory failure, in Sarthe where he was born in 1943. After various jobs in social structures, he began studying sociology and it was in this context that in 1979 he met Jean-Marie Tjibaou, then mayor of Hienghen in New Caledonia, leader of a movement for the independence of the island and keen to promote Kanak culture.

At the initiative of the Kanak leader, he then began a vast project to inventory Kanak art collections in various French, European and international museums, alongside Emmanuel Kasarhérou, the current president of the Musée du Quai Branly. Today, 17,000 objects belonging to Kanak culture are listed in 110 international museums. The inventory established by Roger Boulay is available on the website of the Ministry of Culture. In 1986 he obtained a doctorate in ethnology at the University of Paris 1.

At the same time, Roger Boulay made 3,000 sketches of the objects listed, most often drawn on the spot in museum collections. Many of the objects listed were unknown or forgotten in museum reserves; most of them date from the first half of the 19th century to the 1920s. In 2022, the Musée du Quai Branly devoted an exhibition to his notebooks, “Carnets kanak, voyage en inventaire de Roger Boulay”.

Roger Boulay has curated several exhibitions on Oceanian cultures. In 1990 he organized “De jade et de nacre” at the Musée de Nouvelle-Calédonie (Noumea), which attracted 8,000 visitors in two and a half months. In 2002, he curated the exhibition “Kannibals et Vahinés” (National Museum of African and Oceanic Arts, Noumea) on stereotypes of Oceanian cultures in European imagery. In 2009, he moved away from his subject of study for a lighter figure: “Tarzan! or Rousseau chez les Waziri” at the Musée du Quai Branly.

Since 2005 he has been in charge of the Oceania collections and curator at the Museum of African and Oceanic Arts (currently the Palais de la Porte Dorée).

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