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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Nike Okundaye - From Humble Beginnings to World Acclaimed Artist

Meet Mrs Nike Okundaye, the woman behind Nike's Art Gallery, her works are celebrated around the world and her designs exhibited in countries like the United States, Italy and Germany. 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 of Mrs Okundaye's works can be found amongst the collection of prominent politicians around the world, including the White House. In her words: “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's journey began in her native village of Ogidi, Ijumu local government area, Kogi state, after losing her mother at the age of 6 and was sent off to live with her grandmother. It was there she was exposed to and learnt the art of weaving and textile design. Today, she is grateful to her grandmother for inculcating in her the virtue of hard work. She says: "It was through her that I learnt that you must persevere in whatever you do and never give up on your dreams.”

In her words :“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.” Mrs Okundaye never went to school to study art, but became an expert in adire making, dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery, by simply watching her grandmother and practising thereafter.

Nike has taught and held workshops in prestigious universities in the US and Canada. She established the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Osogbo, Osun state, in 1983 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 today has branches in Lagos and Abuja.

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