Remembering Chantal Boulanger – cultural anthropologist : Happy Birthday

This blog is dedicated to Chantal (Sushila) Boulanger, a cultural saree anthropologist, in a true sense of the word. Her work and her book Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping, describes and categorizes more than 100+ ways of draping a saree. She addressed the Saree draping in both artistic and scientific manner and has left a mark on the Saree World. Her work has been inspiring for me and her presence is missed.

Today is her birthday! Happy Birthday Sushila Chantal Boulanger-Maloney.

-Sunny

chantal_boulanger OF ALL the arts that have emerged out of India, one of the least known and studied is that of draping. Chantal Boulanger-Maloney devoted much of her time between 1980 and 1996 to travelling throughout south, central and eastern India researching and documenting 100 different styles of draping saris. She was particularly concerned that many of these styles would be forgotten if they were not documented. Her pioneering research was consolidated and published in her book Saris: an illustrated guide to the Indian art of draping (1997), which included many of her own drawings.

Born Chantal Boulanger in 1957, she was raised in France and, after leaving school, she studied art at Brighton Polytechnic, in 1975-76. Soon afterwards, she travelled to Japan to learn about Japanese culture and particularly film.

Boulanger loved to visit her ‘spiritual home’ of Tamil Nadu, in south India, amassing a chantal_illustrationmagnificent collection of photographs. She completely embraced the culture, became a Hindu and always wore a sari while in India. Wherever she went she made many good friends, to whom she was known by the Indian name of ‘Sushila’. Her affection for India, its culture and customs was also evidenced in In the Kingdom of Nataraja: a guide to temples, beliefs and people of Tamil Nadu (1993) and a novel, The Goddess Justice (1997).

She curated an exhibition, ‘The Indian Sari: draping bodies, revealing lives’, at the universities of Minnesota (1998) and Montreal (2000), and in La Reunion (1999).

chantal_boulanger_2In France and the United States she gave ad hoc lectures on Dravidian India and sari drapes, incorporating practical demonstrations on many of the different styles of draping. Her depth of knowledge and natural delivery endeared her to audiences. (In addition to her native French, Boulanger was fluent in English, could write, read and speak Tamil to a high standard and had some knowledge of both Japanese and Hindi.)

Boulanger founded the Institute of Draped Clothing in 1999, set up a website (www.idcw.org.uk) and edited its quarterly newsletter. The goals of the institute were to research, study, preserve and promote draped clothing such as saris, Roman togas, sarongs and other unstitched costumes found all over the world.

When in 1997 she moved to London, she enrolled in traditional Scottish and Irish dance classes. It was while at Irish set-dancing classes that she met Peter Maloney at the Hammersmith Irish Centre in late 2000. They were married in 2002 and their marriage was subsequently blessed at a traditional Hindu ceremony in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, in 2003.

Chantal Boulanger, cultural anthropologist: born Paris 4 January 1957; married 2002 Peter Maloney; died Kebili, Tunisia 27 December 2004.

 

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