Mrs Nike Davies-Okundaye is one of the most respected internationally known female artist from Nigeria, who has made astounding strides in textile, visual arts and mixed media painting. Some of her work can be found amongst the collection of George Harrison (Beatles pop group member), the White House (seat of power in the United States of America), and museums worldwide. 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, she is most outstanding in paintings and designs of adire, beadwork and batik. She was once described as an artist who used detailed and arresting batik images to chronicle her society’s contradictory views towards women. ‘Nike’ as she likes to be known, has won countless awards from around the world, not only for her artwork, but her contribution to her community at wide and the impact she has had on people’s lives.
One of Nike’s proudest achievements was in the year 2000, when she was invited to Italy by the Italian government to train young Nigerian sex workers how to use their hands to engage in creative ventures. Most of the young complained to the Italian government that they left Nigeria in search of work, not knowing what they would be forced into. When Nike got to Italy, she taught them skills in craft making and many of the women became self-reliant in no time and stopped their old means of income.
Born in 1951 in a small village called Ogidi-Ijumu in Kogi State, Nike was brought up by her great-grand mother and an aunt who was an artist. She tells the story of her humble beginning: “I come from a culturally oriented background. I lost my mother at a very tender age. My grandmother took care of me until she died. The lot now fell on my great grandmother, the Iyalode of Ogidi, to raise me. Art runs in my family. My aunt, who also raised me, was an artist. My late mother was an artist, and my father was a trumpeter. As a child, there was no money to further my education. So, I started working at an early age to support myself. I started working with an Indian family in Kabba, Kogi State. Kabba is a bigger town than Ogidi. It was while I was working for this Indian family that I discovered my talent as a creative artist. I started producing embroidery and paintings.”
The Indian couple saw the talent in Nike and encouraged her to continue painting. She went on: “The Indian couple started selling my works to teachers, Rev. Sisters and Rev. Fathers who were living in the neighbourhood. It made me happy that they were buying my works and that I was making a living out it.” She said of her going to Osogbo, her meeting with Susan Wenger and the influence on her work as an artist: “I left Kabba village to stay with my aunt at Osogbo. In Osogbo, I learnt how to make adire and other crafts and met the famous Susan Wenger who had a great influence on my work.”
For a woman who ended her education in primary six, she embraced art and her talent blossomed. Today, Nike’s paintings sell for between N500,0000 to N4 million. In 1983, she opened an art centre known as Nike Centre for Art and Culture, world-renowned for craftsmanship in Osogbo, Osun State. The centre has provided training for hundreds of aspiring young men and women. Teachers instruct students in sculpture, paintings, bead work, mosaic, batik, adire, applique, pen and ink paintings; quilting, drum making and dancing.
For Nike, she does not want to see any young woman go through what she went through in her early life. “I want these girls to understand that they can make a living; a good living with their hands. They should come and join the centre and learn some crafts. Let them come and get trained. The training is free of charge, and accommodation is free. And after their training, I expose their works and products to the outside world.”
What’s not love about one who is not only successful but replicates her success in others. We are definitely crushing on her.