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Open Content Program

The Birmingham Museum of art makes available digital images of works in the Museum’s collection believed to be in the public domain. Images are available free of charge for any use, commercial or non-commercial. Users do not need to contact the Museum for authorization to use these images. They are available through the Online Collection at artsbma.rangeprojects.com. See detailed instructions for specific work types below.

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Queen of Women Mask (eze nwanyi)

Northeastern Igbo people (Ezza or Izzi sub-group), African

Late 19th century

This mask, known as the Queen of Women (Eze Nwanyi), was made and used by the Igbo people of Nigeria. It is one of the most important masks in a multi-character performance that occurs at funerals and dry-season ceremonies that purify the village, market, shrines, paths, and other communal places. Perhaps the most important context for the appearance of Eze Nwanyi is a festival called Otutara, an occasion which reunites living people with their ancestors.


The Queen of Women mask represents a wealthy, senior, titled wife—a mother and grandmother—a woman who commands enormous respect in the village. She embodies Igbo feminine ideals of strength, wisdom, beauty, stature, and dignity, and is a leader among women. As Igbo scholar Chike Aniakor has noted, “. . . her wealth and title remind us that all are not equal, for her achievements are outside the reach of most.”  Eze Nwanyi and her junior, a young female character named Nwamma, he says, are “the kind of women one fights for.”