Artwork: Mask (Eku-Echichi)

The carver of this arresting mask purposefully left his tool marks apparent. He covered the surface sporadically with dried beeswax onto which he embedded red abrus seeds, and gave the face its expressive features of bulging cheeks, circular eye-openings, and pouting open mouth.

This mask has intrigued collectors and specialists since it was first exhibited in Paris in 1930. Initially described as stemming from Cameroon, it was later thought to be from Mali before being rightfully attributed to a Nigerian origin in the early 1970s.

Scholars of Central Nigerian arts and culture now identify it as key to a masquerade known as Eku Echichi (“mask of rubbish”) popular among Ebira communities.

The role of Eku Echichi was to police the crowd during important festivals and social gatherings, but also to celebrate a deceased’s achievements in warfare and hunting.

A label inside the mask states “Eku Igbira mask, collected 1913, hunters competition.

First Artwork Details

Title: Mask (Eku Echichi)

Date: 19th–20th century

Geography: Nigeria, Benue River Valley region, Niger-Benue Confluence

Culture: Ebira peoples

Medium: Wood, abrus seeds, resin

Dimensions: H. 13 × W. 7 × D. 7 1/4 in. (33 × 17.8 × 18.4 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.23

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