In her confident and free spirited way, Nike Okundaye, owner of Nike’s art Gallery, has been pushing for independence of expression long before people had the bravery to be as unique as they could. Growing up she was lucky enough to have parents who were musicians that already had an admiration for the arts. At the age of 6 years old, Mama Nike started making textile designs, giving her time to venture into many forms of art and the arts, including music, before deciding to go full time into being an artist.
Even with the support of her family she still received a lot of opposition from those who saw little to no value in her career choice. “What kind of rubbish is this?” is the type of question she was regularly getting asked. At this time in 2018, it still seems difficult to gain stability and assurance in the creative industry in Nigeria. Obviously not because they aren’t good – because anyone can see they are amazing- but because of the lack of respect Nigerians have given those with artistic purpose. It used to be a thing of having to piss off your parents or travel elsewhere to become successful if the path you chose was outside the medical, law or engineering road, because Nigerian would not be willing to appreciate your talent(s), especially if money was yet to be made.
Now, though the road is still bumpier than other careers, we must admit that it has been made easier, and we owe it to those that went before us, much like Mama Nike. The increase in creative job opportunities is happening at a higher frequency. But as we keep building for the future, we must recognize and learn from those who were able to venture before us.
Mama Nike has taken it upon herself to show Nigerians that art is more than a phase, or a frivolous activity that doesn’t deserve the amount of credit that artist are demanding. She would like others to understand the skill, though process and patience it takes for an artist to finish one piece. “Each of my paintings takes a year”, she told us, referring to her landscape painting, made solely of small graphite beads and adhesive. The paintings in her gallery teach, inspire and build a connection between the artist, the subject(s), and the viewer.
“Creativity takes courage”- Henri Matisse, and in a society that demeans the term ‘creative’, it will be challenging for young artists to find their feet and be sure of themselves and their craft. That is why Mama Nike – who I must say is very proud of her work- has opened various training centers in Oshogbe, Yaba, Lekki, that aid and direct those budding to ensure they flourish to the best of their abilities.
She has trained over 600 students as well as provided guidance for all her children, who are also artists.
Her experience as an artist has also helped her and her panel of judges determine what kind of art she wishes to show in her gallery. She expressed that she prefers traditional over contemporary art, simply because she believes traditional art shows a communal identity that connects you to your culture, whereas contemporary art is usually self-based. She also mentioned “It’s fun to see things that are no longer in fashion”.
Speaking of styles, anyone that has seen or knows Mama Nike can guess what her favorite fashion statement is. Apart from her art, she is also known for her big and detailed hats, which are as flamboyant as her self. “Every time I wear them bigger, they will say they cannot see”, she explained that she hardly gets to wear her hats in their final forms, because most people can’t handle it, but even the watered down versions of them are enough to cause a stir. “You know in Nigeria, your hat is your crown”. To explain the story behind the drama, “…so every woman, who is married or not married, your hat is your crown. So we always like to wear it big, to say we are independent.”
Although not fully revered in earlier times, Mama Nike’s work and influence in today’s society has slowly but surely given fuel to the creative scene, birthing inspiration on a daily, and she is always so excited to meet young people to learn and be learnt from. You are most likely to catch her in Nike’s Art Gallery, conducting tours and teaching people that walk in about the meanings and relevance of the art she surrounds herself with.