Published Obituary-The Independent
The following obituary was published in the British newspaper THE INDEPENDENT on 8th April 2005. I wrote it with editorial help from my good friend, Gavin Maxwell.
Cultural anthropologist who documented 100 styles of sari draping
08 April 2005
Chantal Boulanger, cultural anthropologist: born Paris 4 January 1957; married 2002 Peter Maloney; died Kebili, Tunisia 27 December 2004.
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.
On her return to Paris she studied anthropology and Tamil at L'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, and as part of her diploma work carried out a detailed study of temple priests in Tamil Nadu, published as La Pretrise dans les temples de Kanchipuram, Inde du Sud (1987).
From 1989 to 1993 she was at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, working in the public relations department, and was involved with the Margaret Mead Festival (an international festival featuring anthropological documentary films).
Boulanger loved to visit her "spiritual home" of Tamil Nadu, in south India, amassing a magnificent 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).
In 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 I first met her at the Hammersmith Irish Centre in late 2000. We married in 2002 and our marriage was subsequently blessed at a traditional Hindu ceremony in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, in 2003.