Seeking to highlight the gradual penetration of immigration into all spheres of French society, the permanent exhibition at the National Museum of the History of Migration in Paris follows a chronology from 1685 to today, tracing the status of foreigners and their contribution to shaping the face of France as we know it.
How did immigrants affect French society, and how did they imprint it? This question is answered by the Museum of Immigration in Paris, which will reopen to visitors as of Tuesday after closing its doors for three years, during which modifications were made to its design so that its centerpiece is this “common history”.
In an effort to highlight the gradual penetration of immigration into all spheres of society, the permanent exhibition follows a chronology based on eleven major time stations extending from the year 1685 to the present day.
“Immigration is an integral part of the history of France, of a common history. In each of these histories, we show the situation of foreigners and the way Their contribution to making the history of France.
The justification for this approach, according to Rivière, is that “one out of every three French people today is an immigrant, or the son of an immigrant or the grandson of an immigrant.”
Historian Marianne Amar notes that the museum’s management was keen to display “this history in all its complexities”, that is, the history of “the people who were originally here”, who are the French, and “those who come”, who are the immigrants, and adds that the goal is to “weave these two stories together” so that They do not happen “in parallel”, but “together”.
“Not a textbook”
The museum highlights the reality of migration today in its two aspects, as it is on the one hand the boat loaded with bundles of African fabrics, as expressed in the work of the Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Togo, representing the dangers faced by immigrant boats during their crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and on the other hand, pictures of foreign doctors and nurses in French hospitals during Covid pandemic.
The tour of the exhibition extends over a path of 1,800 meters, and the museum has renewed 80 percent of the works since its closure in December 2020.
The year 1685 is the first stop in visiting the museum, which is the year of the Black Law, the symbol of the colonial era, but also the year of the abolition of the Edict of Nantes and the asylum of the Huguenots. Amar explains that it is “deliberately provocative” history because the museum is “not a textbook”. History shows, according to Amar, that “France is not only a country of alienation, but also a country of emigration,” as she says.
The visitor then passes through the various periods and upheavals of a controversial history, to answer a question summed up by the exhibition’s executive curator Emilie Gandon, “How do we become French over time?”.
In 1848, France saw the arrival of Polish exiles while a petition – which is on display in the museum – of Italian and Spanish refugees against house arrest in the provinces.
At that time, the first census was conducted for foreigners and they constituted one percent of the population, while today they are 10 percent, according to official estimates. By the mid-nineteenth century, people coming to Paris from Quimper (in Brittany, in western France) or from Carpentras (southeast) were considered refugees in the works of art.
fight “preconceived notions”
The museum shows the participation of foreigners in the war effort in 1917, the independence of Algeria in 1962, the repercussions of decolonization, and the mobilization in 1973 for the rights of foreign workers, through maps, photos, paintings and other documents on the main events that transformed immigration into integration.
In the 1995 section, the year in which the European Schengen area was established, the visitor is shown a series of photographs taken by Thomas Maylander, which represent the cars of migrant families that used to go in the summer to the Maghreb countries, with surfaces piled up with pieces of furniture and household appliances.
In addition to the chronology, the visitor is presented with works by today’s artists on migration, including images of camps in Paris juxtaposed with images of welcoming Ukrainians. The museum also displays some demographic data from the most recent studies.
“Our conviction is that prejudices are a form of ignorance,” says the director of the palace, Constance Rivière. The museum, which opens officially on Tuesday, is open to the public from June 17.