Not many in Nigeria know a unique life story of Nike Okundaye, who is a ‘goddess’ in Europe and America as her works are cherished by kings and presidents. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Nike Okundaye Mrs Okundaye is the face behind the huge success story of Nike Arts Gallery, located in Lagos, Abuja and Osogbo. Childhood and its hardships Born in her native village of Ogidi, Ijumu local government area, Kogi state, little Nike had big dreams about what type of future she wanted for herself. But her dreams were truncated when she lost her mother at age six. Shortly after the family tragedy, young Nike was taken away to live with her grandmother, who at that time was the leader of cloth weavers in the community. “I come from a family of craftsmen. My parents were crafts people from Ogidi in Ijumu local government area, Kogi state. My life as an artist is something that I was born with. I started weaving at the age of six. “I started with weaving different things, including adire, a traditional Yoruba hand-painted cloth design. As a matter of fact, I can say everything that had to do with textile. They taught me how to weave, using a little calabash. Gradually, I graduated to using bigger materials,” she said. Although Nike was just six years old, she already had a vivid picture of the kind of future she was dreaming about.“My grandmother was the head of all the weavers in our community. So, even as a little child, I already had a dream that I would own a big studio when I grew up. People came from different areas to buy the cloth from her. So, at that time, I already sensed that I might not have the opportunity to go to school.” The grandmother, whose responsibility was to take care of Nike, did not pamper the girl, instead, she instilled the virtue of hard work in her granddaughter’s young, impressionable mind. “I would cry and lament because I thought she was wicked and punishing me. But today, I always thank her for inculcating in me the virtue of hard work. It was through her that I learnt that you must persevere in whatever you do and never give up on your dreams.” Nike truly believes that destiny might have been involved in the way her life played out, including her mother’s death. According to her, her mother was a very hard working woman, and if she had not died she would have trained her up to university level. Girl’s father was a farmer, who apart from work did several other things like basket weaving to have additional income. “But today, I look at my childhood and all that I went through as something designed by destiny. Who knows, maybe if my mother had not died and I had gone ahead to be educated, I may never have had the kind of opportunity that I have today and may never have risen to the level that I am.” Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Nike Davies Okundaye ‘Nike A Group Of Friends’ (2004) It would be noted that Nike never went to school to study art, vocational training in art was passed down to her by her grandmother. Watching her grandma in the art of adire textile processing and helping her, Nike was practicing herself and became an expert in adire making, dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery. Today, Nike is a world acclaimed artist and textile designer. Her works are celebrated in major capitals of the world, with her designs exhibited in the USA, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Italy and many others. Proudest achievements In 2000, the Italian government invited Nike to train young Nigerian sex workers on how to use their hands to engage in creative ventures. When the talented designer got to Italy, she taught Nigerian women skills in craft making and many of them became self-reliant and stopped their old means of income. In 2006, she was awarded one of the highest national awards of merit by the Italian government in appreciation of her efforts in using art to address and solve the problems of Nigerian sex workers in Italy.
Some works of Nike can be found amongst the collection of prominent politicians around the world, including the White House. Two former presidents of the USA, Bill Clinton and George Bush, were so impressed by her works at various times that they sought audience with her during their visits to Nigeria. Nike not only met and shook hands with the two former presidents, she even decorated George Bush’s room in Abuja during his visit to the country. According to her, these two incidents, were some of the best things to have happened to her in her life. “When President Bill Clinton of the US visited Nigeria, he asked to meet the woman behind Nike Gallery, and I was taken to Abuja to meet him. It was the same thing with President George Bush. I was invited to meet him in Abuja during his visit to Nigeria. I was the one that decorated the room where the president stayed during the visit. What honour can be greater than this? I feel accomplished.” Nike has taught in several prestigious universities in the USA and Canada. “I have lectured and held workshops in several noble institutions across the world. Some of the universities include Harvard, Columbus, Edmonton, Ohio and in Los Angeles, among others. My first experience with teaching was in 1974. At that time, I taught people with doctoral degrees.” “The type of education I had at the time was the education that is passed from parents to their children, not the education you get in a classroom. It was the practical type of education,” she said.
She established the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Osogbo, Osun state, where trainings are offered free of charge to Nigerians in various forms of arts. The centre was opened with 20 young girls who were picked from the streets and offered free food, free materials and a new life in arts. So far, more than 3,000 young Nigerians have been trained there. The centre also admits undergraduate students from many universities in Nigeria for their industrial training programmes in textile design. Now it also admits students from Europe, Canada and the USA.