Two Continents One Soul

The Emil Torday Congo Collection - Studio Exhibition 1/Dec/2015 - 3/Dec/2017
What can be the message of a Congo researcher from the beginning of the 20th century to our times? Emil Torday (1875–1931) who started his carreer as a simple bank officer in Budapest and Brussels might have realised his bravest dream and original adventurousness when he accepted a colonial post in the Free Congo State in 1900.


His thirst for discovery and comprehension, the love and admiration of the African cultures and people remained a characteristic feature of his personality for the rest of his life. During his three trips lasting almost 10 years in Congo, from a colonial officer he gradually became a researcher, ending up as a scientific expedition leader for the purposes of the British Museum.

Torday’s worldwide scientific reputation stems not only from his many publications in English and in French, but also from his authoritative ethnographic collections containing about 4000 artefacts he sent and brought back from the Kasai and Sankuru Rivers’ region during his last expedition in 1907-1909. Today, the majority of the artefacts (3000 pieces) reside with the British Museum, though others are to be found in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, the Weltmuseum in Vienna, and the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. After the British Museum, the Museum of Ethnography of Budapest possesses the biggest part of this collection with 462 pieces, originated from 19 ethnic groups, featured in a bilingual catalogue published in 2015.

The purpose of the studio exhibition following the publication of the catalogue is an unusual one: namely, to offer – by examining selected aspects of his background and enormous scientific achievements – a glimpse of the personal motivations behind Torday’s attention to certain topics, and to discuss the types of experiences he had in relation both to collecting in general, and to specific artefacts. As Torday himself wrote frequently of his personal experiences, quotes from his publications in English, French, and Hungarian are displayed in the texts provided throughout this exhibition.

The musical instruments in the exhibition refer to Torday’s affinity to music, the arms speak about his passion for hunting. His love of and admiration for the beauty as well as his friendship with a Bushongo king are illustrated by the unique pieces of the art of this people. Various types of artefacts he collected among the Bunda people are also the manifestations of his honours to the memory of his predecessor, the Africa researcher László Magyar. Masks decorated with European beads and a simple wooden hoe reveals his endeavor to explore what is original and traditional in the local cultures and to document these features by the collected artefacts. His stories about a chief’s stick and about a surprising event he had with a carrier who slipped in the mud show the role of accidents in the research work helping the discovery of secrets.

Texts and selection of quotes and objects by Edina Földessy