She has traversed the world. She is also a woman of immense accomplishment. In some quarters, she is known as Chief Mrs. Nike Okundaye. To some, she is just Nike, a remarkable artist. The affable Chief Executive Officer of the nationally spread network of culture, named Nike Art Centre in Lekki, Lagos spoke with OMONIYI ALLI of The Trumpet. Excerpts:
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently if you were not into arts. Some people just look at you and they are surprised by what you have achieved?
Answer: I don’t think there is anything I could have done differently because at the end of the day everything has worked out well for me. For this I thank the Almighty God for His mercies and kindness over my life.
You always look so cheerful with the stream of visitors coming to this place. What is the secret?
Hard work, humility and of course, following what I believe is my passion right from childhood.
Who is who visits your gallery, including Serena and Venus Williams when they came to Nigeria. One would like to know what is the secret of this, high profile collectors and individuals coming to your gallery, and what makes Nike Okundaye happy?
Every human being does get pissed off. It all depends on situation at a time. However, as an artist, I have more thing things that make me happy daily than those that put m off. I keep working and one of my philosophies is to provide a gallery where visitors can see the best Nigerian art pieces. So that is why they come. In other words, they appreciate what I am doing even they have not seen me.
However, I can’t say it my work alone, I think it is the favour of God. There are too many versions of your background. Can you now throw real light on your background? I started my sojourn into arts when I was just six. Because I lost my mother in life early in life one of my mother’s sisters had to bring me to Osogbo. You know, Osogbo has a history of being a home to arts and culture in Yorubaland. It was while in Osogbo as 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 art movement. The extra moral classes they conducted in those days was what empowered many artists. Today, as you know many of them have become international artists. For me, I will say I derived some of mu inspirations from Susanne not only loved our culture but because she remained committed to our culture till she passed away. I wish we can have another artist like Wenger. You remember that she with Beier in the 1950s.
It was then that I said let me go and grow up with her because the way she embraced everybody and Yoruba religion and culture. Honestly, she truly inspired me during my stay with her. So, in brief that was how I started with arts and background. 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 were 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. But some people prefer to call it Campalla.
Although it as by accident, but before you know it, that was how people started calling me Mama Adire up till today. The Adire has carried me to so many countries of the world. Apart from that, today I also do oil and acrylic paintings. We have held so many exhibitions in this gallery since we opened. Some featured my works and other Nigerian and foreign artists.
People talk about your galleries in Abuja, and Osogbo. Why did you build this imposing one in Lagos?
I built it so I can provide a platform for artists to engage the public with their works. It is part of my contribution for young artists or those interested in creativity. It is true as you said, that I have such edifice in other places but our gallery in Lagos different thing. For instance, we know that a lot of art event in Nigeria takes place in Lagos. Because of that I feel we should a kind of gallery that will reflect that. So the gallery is dedicated to arts, especially to promote it.
That is why we welcome everyone to be part of our activities. It is for everyone to come and express their
creativity. It is the journey that I set to do in my life. It is a vision that started over three decades ago and I am happy that I have achieved it. One of the memorable places that fired my zeal to build the gallery was the Convent Garden in London. I cannot forget my experience the first time I was there. If you visit Convent Garden, you will see all kinds of works and beautiful paintings from the ground to the top floor. You will see paintings hanging all over the place. So when i visited the gallery, I kept dreaming of that place. I kept dreaming that one day, I will build that kind of gallery in Nigerian that actually looks like that. Apart from that, I think Nigeria has a lot to learn from some countries like Kenya. If you go to Kenya and Senegal, you will discover that the government is investing heavily in arts and tourism.
What do you think are challenges that artists face in Nigeria?
Without even talking about it, many people know that finance is the greatest problem that young artist face. I think it will be very good if government and banks can develop products that will help not only artists but all creative people in his country. That will go a long way to solve the problem young artists.
Some people hold the view that Nigerians have problem of appreciating works of arts. What is your view?
I will not blame people who hold such view. Because if you look at the works of Hubert Ogunde and how it has been left since he died, you would agree to that. If you leave property for your children, it is their right to protect it. So I am appealing to our leaders to do something in helping artists. In many cases the rights are violated but no one speaks for them. We should also stand up just like what other countries are doing to promote our culture.
What types of works will one find in Nike Art Gallery?
We have different types of paintings, sculptures, installation and all other types of arts works that you can imagine. We equally hope that we will continue to improve with time and demand. With time, there will be more works. Our gallery is also offering opportunities for young artists to showcase their works as well as see what others are doing with their talents. So we are open to every art and culture lover.