No doubt, Nike Davies-Okundaye is a household name on the African arts landscape. She is one of the internationally acclaimed female artists from Nigeria, who has made astounding strides in textile, visual arts and mixed media painting on the global arts scene. Born in 1951, Nike is an Amazon in her own right. She is the woman behind the Nike Art Empire spanning across Nigeria and the world.
There is hardly any important museum in the world that does not have Madam Nike’s work. She is an artist of many parts – she drums, directs plays, dances, paints, and trains young adults to do all of the listed.
However, this year 2019, marks her 50 years of promoting and exhibiting traditional and contemporary African art across the world, and she is rolling out colourful drums to celebrate the uncommon feat on January 27, 2019 at the Nike Art Gallery, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos.
But taking a look at the journey so far, it is obvious that the artist weathered so many storms to prove her mettle to promote African art to global relevance.
With four art centres in Lagos, Osun, Kogi and Abuja, she was dedicated to promoting and teaching the arts, culture, tradition, language and heritage of Nigeria. Nike’s Lagos gallery, the newest of the four, contains one of the most extensive African art collections in Africa, and is reported to be West Africa’s largest art gallery. The four art centres collection boasts of over 500 sculptures, 8,000 paintings, and thousands of indigenous and hand designed fabrics, all hand selected by Madam Nike.
At the Nike Center for Art and Culture, Osogbo, Osun State, trainings are offered free of charge to interested Nigerians in various forms of arts. The centre was established in 1983, by Nike solely from her earnings as an artist and without governmental assistance. Nike opened this centre with 20 young girls who were marching the streets in Osogbo aimlessly and who had no hopes for the future. In their tender age, Nike withdrew these girls from the streets and provided them with free food, free materials and free accommodation at her residence at Osogbo and taught them how to use their hands to earn decent livings through the art. So far, over 3000 young Nigerians have been trained at the centre and are now earning decent living through art. Many African countries now send their students to study textile art at the centre.
The Osogbo centre now admits undergraduate students from many universities in Nigeria for their industrial training programmes in textile design. It also admits students from all over Europe, Canada and the United States of America. International scholars and other researchers in traditional African art and culture also visit the centre for their research works into Yoruba “Adire” fabric processing and African traditional dyeing methods.
In 1996, Nike established a textile (Aso-Oke) weaving centre at Ogidi-Ijumu (her hometown) near Kabba in Kogi State for the women of the village, employing and empowering more than 200 women in the weaving centre.
In June 2002, Nike established an Art and Culture Research Center at Piwoyi village, Abuja with an art gallery and a textile museum, the first of its kind in Nigeria, which will provide functional platform for research into Nigerian traditional textile industry in the Federal Capital Territory area of Abuja.
In furtherance of these noble endeavours, Nike is currently the managing director and founder of Nike Art Productions Limited, which she incorporated in 1994; Nike Art Gallery Limited, which she incorporated in 2007 and Nike Research Centre for Art and Culture Limited, which she incorporated in 2007. Also in 2007, Nike founded the Nike Art and Culture Foundation with some eminent Nigerians as trustees, with the objective of fostering Nigerian cultural heritage.
Her support for African traditional and contemporary art over 50 years has also earned her some local and international recognitions:
In May 2006, Nike was awarded one of the highest Italian national awards of merit by the government of the Republic of Italy in appreciation of her efforts in using art to address and solve the problems of Nigerian prostitutes (sex workers) in Italy. In 2005, the National Commission for Museum and Monument of Nigeria awarded Nike a certificate of excellence in recognition of her efforts in the development of Nigerian cultural heritage. In 2002, Nike was awarded and admitted as a fellow of the institute of The Pan–African Circle of Artists of Nigeria in recognition of her commitment to the promotion of art education in Nigeria.
In 2010, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) of Nigeria presented Nike with a golden plaque of honour in recognition of her noble role in the fight towards drugs free Nigeria society. In 2010, the Osun State Council for Art & Culture presented Nike with a golden plaque of excellence for being one of the leading “Patron of Art & Culture” in the State.
In 2011, the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN) in collaboration with the Nigerian National Gallery of Art (NGA) presented Nike with a plaque and a certificate of honour for art dealer of the year. In November 2012, Nike was presented a plaque of honour ward by the Female Artists Association of Nigeria (FAAN) for her support and contribution to the growth and development of Female Artists in Nigeria.
In December 2012, Nike was presented a plaque of honour ward by the National Council for Art & Culture (NCAC) in Abuja in recognition of her efforts in the promotion of Nigerian Creative Industry and Empowerment through Visual Art. In May 2013, Nike was presented with a golden trophy by the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos in appreciation of her contributions to the development of the National Museum in Lagos.
As well, some of the major international shows she participated in are:
In 1974, Nike was one of the ten African artists who toured and taught arts in various crafts institutions in the USA and in 1981, Nike’s work won the first prize during the SOUTH WEST ARTS FESTIVAL in Washington DC. USA.
In 1985, Nike was one of the six women artists who exhibited at the African Heritage Kenya during the World Women Conference held in Nairobi sponsored by the UN, and in 1992, Nike was the only African who represented the continent at an exhibition organised by BMW Company, Munich Germany.
In 1994, during the celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the UN, Nike was one of the 50 world artists selected to exhibit their works and in November 1994, she exhibited her art works at the Royal York Hotel, Toronto Canada.
In addition to the following major international shows, Nike has had over 102 solo art exhibitions and 36 group art exhibitions in her artistic life. Nike’s art works can be found in many private home collections and public institutions collections including schools, colleges, universities, palaces and museums all over the world. Two of Nike’s major art works “Liberal Women Protest March (Parts 1 & 2)” were collected by the Smithsonian National Museum Of African Art in Washington DC, USA for permanent display in 2012.
From a very modest beginning without serious formal western education, Nike has grown to a point where her actions and initiatives have positively impacted the lives of so many who came her ways. Other than giving the benefits of her exposure to the less privileged, Nike’s works have won her large array of dedicated fan across the globe where she has become an ambassador of good will for art and culture for her beloved country since 1974 when she first took her art works across the shores of this country to the Americas for exhibition. Her interactions cut across a wide divide: politicians and non-politicians, diplomats, scholars, business men and women, researchers, children, tourists, etc., come on a daily basis visiting Nike and her centres in Nigeria.