An official dramatization: the era of colonial exhibitions (from Amsterdam in 1883 to Lyon in 1914)

Colonial pavilions were initially included in universal exhibitions because of their “exotic” quality, but by the end of the nineteenth century specifically colonial exhibitions grew exponentially. In fact, they soon became privileged spaces in which the contrast between the “civilized” and the “savage” could be made evident and the importance of the “civilizing mission” underscored, thereby justifying colonial expansionism. Presages of colonial exhibitions were to be found overseas in the British Empire at the four Intercolonial Exhibitions of Australasia held between 1866 and 1876. The inaugural colonial exhibition in Europe was held in Amsterdam in 1883 (Internationale Koloniale en Uitvoerhandel Tentoonselling) and included indigenous villages from South-East Asia and the Caribbean. There would subsequently be three successive waves. The first (1883- 1899) involved solely Europe with a dozen exhibitions, mainly in France (Lyon [1894], Bordeaux [1895], and Rouen [1896]) and Great Britain (the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886, and then the Colonial Exhibitions of 1894 and 1899), but also in Madrid in 1887 and Porto in 1896, in addition to the Kyoto industrial exhibition of 1895.

Propaganda was pervasive, as in the case of the Berlin exhibition in 1896 on which occasion the “natives” paid homage to the Emperor. In certain cases these spectacles were also produced within the empires themselves, such as in Calcutta in 1883 or Hanoï in 1902-1903. The second wave (1900-1914) was geographically more open and expanded to include national exhibitions such as the Japanese National Industrial Exhibition held in Osaka in 1903. France, Italy and Great Britain were by now stepping up the number of colonial exhibitions: Marseilles in 1906, Paris and Nogent in 1906-1907, Lyon in 1914, London in 1908, 1909 and 1911, Milan in 1906 and the Turin International Exhibition of Industry and Labor in 1911. After the First World War, the third and last wave spanned two decades (1921-1940) involving the most popular exhibitions thus far in terms of attendance in France, Great Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Italy and South Africa (see panel n°17).


The Turin International Exhibition of Industry and Labor (1911)

In 1911, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, an international exhibition was organized in Turin in an area covering some three hundred acres and attended by over six million visitors. The Italian Empire was showcased thanks to the presence of an Eritrean and Somali village. A grandiose “Oriental bazaar” featured all kinds of exotic products from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Dahomey, China, Japan, the island of Madagascar, the Congo, Mexico, and Columbia…


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