Kanak – Musée du Quai Branly
Invited competition for a special exhibition
The “Kanaks” exhibition opened its doors to the public at an important point in the history of the Kanak population, the island natives of New Caledonia. It seeks to draw a focus to these people, their culture and their history. Between 2014 and 2018, the Kanaks will hold a referendum to determine whether the country is to remain a political collectivity of France or, alternatively, whether a new independent state be founded. The Kanaks, having witnessed their culture be transformed by centuries of colonialisation and missionary initiatives, are a people searching for a new identity. It is largely thanks to their traditions of barter and language exchange that the Kanaks have managed to preserve their culture, even through years of political oppression.
Now an extensive installation, featuring acoustic enactments of Kanak life, has been designed to create an atmospheric world, home to a host of objects from Kanak daily life. This was a culture centred around the exchange of both goods and language which served as the basis for the Kanaks’ integrated social networks. The exchange methods were represented by a simple “web” structure that spans the entire room, connecting massive islands with integrated objects. The importance of oral tradition for these tribespeople was incorporated into the “web” network using sound: prayer, song and storytelling serve to guide visitors through the exhibition. The organic network that envelops the day-to-day objects is interrupted at five points by high white walls that force the visitor to change direction. These separating elements represent the influence of European occupiers and symbolise their view of Kanak culture. The interplay of the three symbolically-charged elements – the web structure, the islands and the European “perspective” – provided the basis for the exhibition design.
The project was also a collaborative effort with Krauss – Rihouey Architects in Paris.