Paris Colonial Exposition

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Poster of the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition
Commemorative stamp for the exhibition

The Paris Colonial Exhibition (or "Exposition coloniale internationale", International Colonial Exhibition) was a six-month colonial exhibition held in Paris, France in 1931 that attempted to display the diverse cultures and immense resources of France's colonial possessions.


The exposition opened on 6 May 1931 in the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern outskirts of Paris.[1] The scale was enormous.[2] It is estimated that from 7 to 9 million visitors came from over the world.[3] The French government brought people from the colonies to Paris and had them create native arts and crafts and perform in grandly scaled reproductions of their native architectural styles such as huts or temples.[4] Other nations participated in the event, including The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[2]

Politically, France hoped the exposition would paint its colonial empire in a beneficial light, showing the mutual exchange of cultures and the benefit of France's efforts overseas. This would thus negate German criticisms that France was "the exploiter of colonial societies [and] the agent of miscegenation and decadence". The exposition highlighted the endemic cultures of the colonies and downplayed French efforts to spread its own language and culture abroad, thus advancing the notion that France was associating with colonised societies, not assimilating them.[4]

The Colonial Exposition provided a forum for the discussion of colonialism in general and of French colonies specifically. French authorities published over 3,000 reports during the six-month period and held over 100 congresses. The exposition served as a vehicle for colonial writers to publicise their works, and it created a market in Paris for various ethnic cuisines, particularly North African and Vietnamese. Filmmakers chose French colonies as the subjects of their works. The Permanent Colonial Museum (today the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration) opened at the end of the exposition. The colonial service experienced a boost in applications.[4]

26 territories of the empire participated in the Colonial Exposition Issue of postage stamps issued in conjunction with the Exposition.

Communist counter-exhibition[edit]

At the request of the Comintern, a smaller counter-exhibition entitled The Truth on the Colonies, organized by the Communist Party and the CGTU, attracted very few visitors (5000 in 8 months).[5] The first section was dedicated to abuses committed during the colonial conquests, and quoted Albert Londres and André Gide's criticisms of forced labour in the colonies while the second one made an apology of the Soviets' "nationalities' policy" compared to "imperialist colonialism".

Counter exhibition to the 1931 Colonial Exhibition in Paris, organized by the PCF. Titled Truth on the Colonies


Certain of these buildings were preserved or moved:

See also[edit]


"Le Cactus", architects André Granet and Roger-Henri Expert
  1. ^ Leininger-Miller 54–5.
  2. ^ a b Leininger-Miller 54.
  3. ^ The figures often given are 29 to 33 million, but those figures are for entries. Given the sale of many tickets allowing multiple entries, it is estimated that the real number was 8 to 9 million visitors, still an impressive figure. Jean Martin. L'Empire triomphant, 1871- 1936, Vol. 2, Paris, Denöel, 1990, p. 417.
  4. ^ a b c Leininger-Miller 55.
  5. ^ Études coloniales 2006-08-25 "L'Exposition coloniale de 1931 : mythe républicain ou mythe impérial" (in French)
  6. ^ "The House that Sears Built--in Paris". Sears Homes of Chicagoland. September 28, 2012. Retrieved October 16, 2013. 


  • Leininger-Miller, Theresa A., New Negro Artist in Paris: African American Painters & Sculptors in the City of Light, 1922–1934. Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2001.
  • Hodeir, Catherine, 1931, l'exposition coloniale. Paris: Editions Complexe, 1991. ISBN 2-87027-382-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Morton, Patricia A., Hybrid Modernities: Representation and Architecture at 1931 International Colonial Exposition in Paris. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000.
  • Geppert, Alexander C.T., Fleeting Cities. Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-22164-2.

External links[edit]