By Ada Dike
There are few African women that have made tremendous impact towards development and promotion of creative arts. One of them is Nike Davies Okundaye, an artist, batik originator, singer and dancer.
Spurred by a strong desire to set up a gallery where Nigerians, Africans and tourists would learn and appreciate Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage, she built a state-of–the-art gallery in Lekki, Lagos State. The gallery houses artworks, cloths and bags. The bags and cloths are made with locally made fabrics.
Born on May 23, 1951, she lost her mother at the age of six and went to live with her grandmother who died the following year. So she went to stay with her great grandmother who was the then head of fabric weaving.
“Because I lost my mother early in life, one of my mother’s sisters had to bring me to Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria. Osogbo has rich art and cultural heritage and was one of the centres for Yoruba artistic heritage. It was while I was in Osogbo as a young girl that I heard about the late Susanne Wenger and her husband Ulli Beier. Up till today, I consider them the major catalyst of Nigerian art movement,” Okundaye said
She explained that extra-moral classes that Beier conducted in those days was what helped art in Nigeria to blossom.
“They identified those talents and built them in arts. Today, as you know many of them have become international artists.”
For her, Susanne was the one she derived inspiration from specifically, likewise other artists. Okundaye said it was then that she decided to go and grow up with her because of the way Beier embraced everybody including Yoruba religion and culture.
“Honestly, she truly inspired me during my stay with her. That was how I started with arts. But let me equally say that from the very beginning, my family is into craft art especially, where I come from in Ogidi Ijumu, Kogi State. My first effort was in weaving, then from weaving I moved into Adire (indigenous textile designing), but later, I discovered the Batik, which I called the loss wax method,” she said.
Okundaye explained that Batik is also called campalla.
She noted that due to her avowed love for weaving indigenous textile designing, she was dubbed Mama Adire, adding that Adire making has taken her across the globe .
“The Adire has carried me to so many countries of the world,” says Okundaye.
She stressed that though she loves Adire, she also does oil and acrylic paintings which she all exhibited at her gallery.
“We have held so many exhibitions in my gallery since we opened. Some featured my works and other Nigerian and foreign artists,” Okundaye said.
Her Lagos art gallery is one of the highly patronised tourists’ centres in Nigeria. At present, she has more than 7000 artworks in her gallery in Lagos, though not all of them are for sale.
“A lot of them are displayed for Nigerians and tourists to see the creativity in Nigeria just like in museums abroad. People pay money to enter museums abroad but we do not collect money in my gallery because it is a foundation and it is a dream that came to fruition,” she revealed.
Artists are happy to see their works displayed in my gallery. Each artist works with a spirit that drives him. We don’t see what they are seeing till they are through with their works,” she said.
On how she makes fortune from her gallery, she said: “I actually make money within and outside Nigeria. I do workshop in many countries such as Austria, France, Spain and so on. That is how I succeed with my work, but I derive joy and satisfaction of doing it in Nigeria. My gallery enables Nigerians to learn and develop their cultural heritage. I want to leave the gallery as a legacy after my death.”
What is the major challenge facing her gallery? she was asked. “Funding has been my major challenge so I hereby appeal to individuals, private and public organisations to come to my aid. I know that government cannot do everything for us but I want them to assist us in any way they can,” Okundaye said.
When she was asked to predict how art as a profession in Nigeria would look like in the next 10 years, she said with the help of the Ministry for Art and Culture, Nigeria would be known as African art depot in the next 10 years.
“We have over 30,000 registered artists in Nigeria which is quite intimidating compared with other countries. I am sure that the unregistered artists are more in number than the registered ones,” she said.
According to her, “Artwork is a therapy, If you see a work in which a mother is carrying her baby, it means love and warmness. If you look at an artwork, you would forget your problem.”
The cool and calm woman who is on a mission to reposition Nigeria and indeed Africa’s rich culture in people’s minds advises young artists in Nigeria to be honest in anything they do.
“Whatever you are doing, do it well. Let your work advertise your name. Market yourself in a good way. When you make money, save for the rainy day. Divide it into three parts-for your needs, family, then save the third part for your future. Above all, pass the knowledge to your children. Spanish painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso was not a millionaire before he died but his works are now in many countries,” Okundaye added.
Though she did not have formal education, she has two doctorate degrees from schools in the United States of America. The second is on performing art.
“I am also a singer and dancer too,” she said with a smile.
The proprietress of the nationally spread cultural centres said her vision for opening art centres in Osogbo, with branches in Lagos, Abuja and Ogidi Ijumu is to promote artists, empower rural women and provide training opportunities for those interested in learning the practical aspect of art.