Refusing the “Gift” of Integration

Narratives of Migration at the Galerie des dons

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Abigail E. Celis University of Montreal, Canada

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France's Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration (MNHI) was founded in Paris in 2007, with the stated mission to change popular perceptions on immigration at a time of rising xenophobia. Within the MNHI is the Galerie des dons, an exhibition space dedicated to personal objects donated by immigrants and their families. Combining a museological and a new materialism approach, this article analyzes the textual mediation, spatial organization, material qualities, and social biographies of objects in the Galerie des dons collection as it existed from 2014 to 2019 in order to evaluate the MNHI's “new” narratives of immigration. It concludes that while the curatorial choices tend to reproduce an integration-oriented story of immigration, the individual objects in the Galerie serve as dissenting voices that complicate the institutional narrative.

Contributor Notes

Abigail E. Celis is an assistant professor in decolonial Art History and Museum Studies at the University of Montreal. Informed by feminist and diaspora studies, her work examines the questions of being, belonging, and embodiment staged in Francophone African and Afro-diasporic artistic and literary production. Her scholarly contributions include curatorial work and creative collaborations with practicing artists. She is coeditor of the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Literature: Volume IV, and her published work appears in TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction; Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender and the Black International; and African Arts, with forthcoming work at French Studies and other venues. She has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, and the Lurcy Foundation for her research. Email:

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