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Inside a former 'human zoo' where locals were put on display.

These pictures show the inside of a 'human zoo' where people snatched from French colonies including Tunisia, Morocco and Sudan were put on display in Paris.

Le Jardin d'Agronomie Tropicale - which translated to 'The Garden of Tropical Agriculture' - began in 1899 as a laboratory to test how to better cultivate plants and food from the French Empire, such as coffee, vanilla and bananas.

The garden, on the eastern edge of the Bois de Vincennes on the outskirts of the French capital, also hosted colonial exhibitions to showcase exotic plants, animals and goods from the far reaches of the empire.

But from May until October 1907, it exhibited people from French territories in Africa and Asia in replica villages like a real-life cabinet of curiosities.

An estimated two million people flocked to the exhibition to see what life was like in French colonial holdings, according to Atlas Obscura.

People from territories including Madagascar, French Sudan, India, Morocco, Congo, and Tunisia were transported from their homes to France, dressed in traditional costumes and put on display in the temporary communities.

Some put on a show for the visitors, who were also able to purchase food and goods from these colonies.

After the 1907 exhibition, the residents of the 'villages' were reportedly returned to their homes and although more exhibitions were held, the space was left to ruin after the First World War.

But it was reopened as a park in 2006 and visitors today can still see the abandoned pavilions, monuments and greenhouses.

There are war monuments to soldiers from the colonies as well as reminders of countries that no longer exist, such as the pavilion for Dahomey (now Benin) - a kingdom that was a French colony from 1904 until 1960.

Seph Lawless, a photographer from Cleveland, Ohio, captured photographs of some of the remnants of the 'human zoo' when he visited the park last month.

"The ominous history surrounding it gave it an eerie feeling," the 39-year-old said.

"It was like being inside a real-life episode of Netflix's Black Mirror. It was just unbelievable to think that a place like this existed."

Lawless said some of the features that stood out included "the bars on the windows" and "the dwellings underneath the exhibits [that] were like cages and creepy statues, seemingly out of place, hidden among the weeds".

The photographer, who also worked with a film crew on his project, added: "As a known activist who uses art to promote awareness and activism, my goal with this project is to challenge the viewers to re-evaluate their views on race and immigration.

"We're currently witnessing widespread anti-immigrant racism at an alarming level and these images are a sobering reminder of just how bad it could be."

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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Jul 19, 2018
Words:535
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