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The 1931 Colonial Exposition

1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris showed people in cages, often nude or half-naked. The exhibits were people from Senegalese villages and other regions of the African continent, taken to Paris to demonstrate to the public the structure of their life. On the territory of the Colonial Exposition, six villages with different architecture and lifestyles were rebuilt (Saito, 2014). Paradoxically, the exhibition was organized to show how loyal and democratic France is towards the inhabitants of its colonies.

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While in mock ethnic villages, the natives were encouraged to perform typical daily tasks and demonstrate primitive skills, such as stone tool making, as well as dances and rituals. On some shows, they participated in staged fights or initiations. The organizers wanted to show people the appearance of the main colonial possessions and allow the average Frenchman to see African dwellings and the representatives of other human races (Saito, 2014). However, the pavilions at the 1931 Colonial Exposition were hybrids. They were not authentic representations of indigenous culture, but a mix of Western and Oriental cultures (Morton, 2000). Such displays were intended not to demonstrate the true indigenous culture, but to highlight the cultural differences between Europeans and people who were considered primitive. They were also aimed to show the greatness of the French colonial empire. The Frenchman leaving the exhibition felt a sense of pride in his homeland.

Interest in the colonial world fits into the general climate of moods that reigned in French society. For many people, the 1931 Colonial Exposition has become a place of rest and entertainment. However, it served as an important instrument of colonial propaganda, shaping the image of colonized peoples in mass consciousness. This exposition was a kind of grandiose ceremony, a solemn expression of the idea of the strength of France, its industrial and colonial power.


Morton, P. A. (2000). Hybrid modernities: Architecture and representation at the 1931 Colonial Exposition, Paris. Mit Press.

Saito, N. T. (2014). Tales of color and colonialism: Racial realism and settler colonial theory. Florida A & M University Law Review, 10, 1-108.

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