Nike Art Gallery, located both at Osogbo and Lekki, Lagos, is a gallery, though situated in South-west Nigeria, which has played host to leaders within and outside the country. TUNDE BUSARI reports his recent experience at the two branches.
To the CNN crew which visited Chief (Mrs) Nike Okundaye in 2011, her Nike Arts Gallery located at Lekki, an upscale of Lagos metropolis, is the biggest privately owned gallery in the whole of Africa.
While the claim is a subject of debate, till date no one or a group has controverted it.
Accessing the gallery either from Victoria Island or Epe is an adventure that comes with fun as visitors have no reason to shed sweat. Although the gallery is sited off the ever busy expressway, the three-storey all-white structure stands out and offers an attraction to every curious eye.
To confirm or dispute the CNN’s claim is to enter the gallery and take a tour to the edifice from the ground floor through the first, second and finally third floor.
The collection of eye- catching art works could detain an enthusiast in the building possibly till the closing hour.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that the former Canadian Prime Minister, Joseph Clark visited the gallery in 2010 and got hooked to the collections so much that he spent one hour as against 15 minutes he had earlier planned.
The white walls are adorned with a variety of incredulous art paintings while also different colours and designs of adire fabrics are arranged on shelves.
Nike Art Gallery is indeed a home for handcrafted pieces of furniture, sculptures and other works of African art, hence it regularly plays host to exhibitions and workshops.
When the world Tennis stars sisters, Venus and Serena Williams, visited Nigeria a few years ago, the duo made it to the gallery and even had a tea session with Okundaye and the staff of the gallery.
This, is in addition to the A-list personalities, home and abroad, including state governors and ministers who visit the gallery not only for sightseeing but also for taking home their choice works on the walls.
In May, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi was at the gallery. So also was in June, when the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdul Rasheed Akanbi had a stopover and showered encomium on Okundaye.
The inspiration behind the galley came when Okundaye was on an exhibition trip to the US and saw the significance of having a gallery to showcase her works and those of upcoming artists who would look for such opportunity in an appealing environment.
Commissioned in 2009, the gallery has captured the attention of the world biggest gallery, Smithsonia Institute Museum, Washington, US.
The recognition followed the institute’s contact with only two of Okundaye’s works, which left the institute with a lasting impression and no choice than to admit Okundaye into the elite club of world respected artists.
Her very first gallery was opened in Osogbo, the Osun State capital in 1983. She has two others in Abuja and her Ogidi-Ijumu hometown where over 4000 women have so far benefited from her free training scheme as her social responsibility to empower the underprivileged.
“I realised early that giving these able bodied women money was a not a solution but a problem in itself. So, I threw the training open to them because I am sure they can also make it in life through adire making.
“Oba Elegushi is currently hosting our training in his palace, providing conducive environment to empower our trainees. Kabiyesi is supporting and I am very impressed. This is going to be a big relief to his subjects,” she noted with a smile of fulfillment radiating on her face.
Given her antecedent, her exploits as well as her community service, hardly has there ever been a Yoruba woman who has brought additional fame and honour to Yoruba nation in the class of the indefatigable Okundaye.
The 65-year-old is a personification of diligence. For instance, for the past five decades, she hardly misses a minimum of two hours of serious work in her studio. However tight her schedule is, she must wake in the middle of the night to do some paintings and other arts works on her list. This routine is a lubricant of sorts consolidating her position at the front row of world notable artists.
Despite this, however, she does not compromise her duty as a wife who must take a good care of her husband at all times. She is married to a retired Commissioner of Police, Mr Reuben Okundaye, a lover of arts who is now surprisingly trying his hand in some art works.
Two personalities made a great impact in Okundaye’s life. Her grandmother, who taught her the basic knowledge of dye and tying in Osogbo, comes first.
The second person was the late Suzan Wenger popularly known as Adunni Olorisa. The Austrian, reputed for her love for Osun Osogbo and Yoruba culture, made a lasting impact in Okundaye’s career that she adopted her as her role model because of her passion for Yoruba arts and tradition. Adunni Olorisa died at 93 in 2009.
“If you go to Osun grove, you will appreciate mama more that what I am telling about her. The sculptor works in the grove were her creation. She taught me hard work and resilience, especially when faced with some challenges. I am happy to have had her in my career,” she stated.
Remarkably, 1982 remains evergreen in the life of Okundaye’s career. As a young artist already dazzling the world with her creative hands, she was in the United States (US), precisely in Washington when suddenly all her works were reduced to ashes following a strange inferno.
The world seemed to be falling off Okundaye’s head because of the shock that accompanied the incident. However, she picked herself together and moved on with her life only to achieve many more accomplishments in the same US and other continents.
“The beauty of it was that I had insured all the works but notwithstanding it was a painful experience, going by the efforts going into making those works. I am happy when the FBI report indicated a cover up. This incident further taught me a lesson and opened my eyes to the complexity of human being regardless of colour,” she noted.
Even though Okundaye can hardly hurt a fly, in terms of flaunting her success but she does not hold back her words when the topic is narrowed down to government’s attitude to culture promotion. She lamented that government fails to appreciate the core value of culture in earning foreign exchange.
Drawing from her experience in empowering women who are now feeding their families through the work of arts, Okundaye said promoting culture is a panacea to unemployment in the country.
“But they like to put square peg in a round hole. That is why we are in this state. I can only advise them to show active interest in our culture to make cool money. If they know the number of foreigners who come to witness Osun Osogbo, they will understand what I am talking about,” she said.