Till Art Transforms Ordinary Woman………Nike Okundaye
It was at the just ended exhibition in her Lekki-based gallery that this writer felt the humility of Chief (Mrs.) Monica Oyenike Okundaye. She was everywhere attending to high profile collectors and visitors alike. Safe for her well-designed dark adire and a traditional cap to match, she could be mistaken for one of the many young female workers, as she went round, welcoming new visitors.
“Ekaabo! Ekaabo!!” Almost became a singsong for the 63 year-old artist.
Without a microphone, her voice was loud and clear. Quite unexpected for the woman, who is popularly known as ‘Mama Adire’, whose only sign for such advanced years remains a sharp mind and a more calculated steps.
Popularly known in the country for her arts and culture promotions, which invariably, has been her identity: she also holds the traditional title of Yeye Oba of Ogidi-Ijumu land.
But unknown to many, the Ogidi-Ijumu-born batik-maker is a woman of many parts. An accomplished woman, who, driven by an inner passion for arts and for the less-privileged, has equally done an impressive lot to put young artists on their feet.
One of such is an outreach training facility set up in Ogidi town, Kogi State, which has trained local women on the art of spinning, weaving and dying in the women’s co-operative that Nike developed. The vocational school produced over 60 women recently.
The inspiration came as a result of many of her global travels. She says, “I saw a need to empower women economically, because I believe that economic empowerment is the key to other things. Once a woman is empowered, she will be able to get the type of livelihood she deserves.”
The art matriarch would tell whoever cared to listen that women should not see themselves as under dogs of the society. “I believe what we are doing is to empower our people and help them build self-esteem” she confesses.
Okundaye recalls: “The hardship that women face always touches me. That was why I set up the facility in Ogidi, where local women could learn skills and empower themselves, via a vocational workshop, so that they can generate income. Since we started, I am happy that many women from different parts of the country have passed through the place and today, many of them are happier for it.”
Aside from setting up her gallery in Lekki, Mama Adire has also established an art and culture research centre at Piwoyi village, Abuja, with an art gallery and a textile museum, the first of its kind in Nigeria, which has been providing functional platform for research into Nigerian traditional textile industry in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
She quips, “the idea is also, because I have realised that government cannot do everything for the citizenry, thus, there is a need for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private sectors to step.”
Born on May 23, 1951, Nike Okundaye attended St. Michael’s Primary School, Ogidi, but her education was terminated in primary 6, because of lack of funds.
To many young girls in such a circumstance, not being able to continue schooling would, have most probably, led to early marriage and an abridgement of destiny. But it was not so with Mrs. Okundaye, as she took up the challenge, determined to explore to the fullest the destiny that awaited her. She went ahead to teach herself English at home as a way of navigating the pathway to a better life.
Though, with no formal or little education, except that garnered by dint of hard work, Mrs. Okundaye rose to fame through her exploits in the arts.
Principally educated in art by her great grandmother, the late Madam Ibikunle, with whom she lived after the death of her mother and grandmother. Her great grandmother was a weaver and an adire textile maker/dyer. Watching her great grandmother and helping her out in the art of adire processing, Okundaye walked up the line to become an expert in the art, as well as in dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery.
Steadily building on what her great grandmother had taught her, Okundaye went ahead to develop her own unique style and technique in textile design and painting as well as how to effectively present them for shows.
As the Chief Executive of Nike Centre for Art and Culture, Osogbo, she offers training free of charge to Nigerians in various forms of arts. She is also the Curator of the Nike Art Galleries in Lagos, Abuja, Osogbo and Ogidi.
In 1996, as a way of empowering her native Ogidi women in Kogi State, she established a textile (aso oke) weaving centre in her hometown. More than 200 women have so far benefitted from that initiative. She is so proud of the town that yearly, she brings important foreign dignitaries home to savour its beauty.
On her list of foreign dignitaries, who have followed her home are ambassadors of major western countries such as, the United States of America, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland etc. Perhaps, more than any Ogidi indigene, Nike has helped to adequately position her town in cyberspace. You only need to click the mouse on Ogidi or Nike on any Internet search engine to see the large number of links that pop up, confirming how far she has gone in carving a niche for the place.
Nike holds the traditional titles of Yeye Oba of Ogidi, YeyeTayese of Osogbo and Yeye Gbasaga of Ijumu. She is a member of the Society of Nigerian Artists, Society of Nigerian Women Artists, Osun Support Groove etc. She has won awards from all over the world – including one of the highest Italian national awards, which she was given in appreciation of her efforts in using art to address and solve the problems of Nigerian commercial sex workers in Italy.
On what life has taught her at 63, Nike says, “so many lessons. Whatever one finds in life is for a moment; no condition is permanent. Therefore, one can work and change his or her condition. Destiny is in our hands. This gives a lot of strength to go on everyday, despite challenges. I did not have much education, but with hard work, God has helped me. It is also, because I stayed focused to this goal and my love for the arts. Things may not look good today, but they are challenges for us to learn from. Challenges are things that drive us to our ultimate destiny. So I will say that until art transforms ordinary woman, children, I will keep working.”