Oyenike Monica Okundaye, popularly known as Nike, is one of those rare people who have delved into African arts in all its ramifications.
Her works, appearance, her beliefs, and virtually everything about her point to the resilient of the Nigerian spirit and her love for her roots.
Known for her beautifully designed adire and batik fabrics, as well as her well crated and designed paintings, Nike has indeed come a long way, and she is not stopping anytime soon.
Nike’s artistic inclinations come from her family background; her grandmother, Madam Ibitola was into adire textile making. Nike learnt the art of adire making from her grandmother; she also sharpened her vocational skills in painting, weaving and embroidery.
During the early days, Nike, a young lady, faced with many challenges, promised herself that she would make something out of her life, instead of allowing difficulties weigh her down. The sight of young women roaming the streets was something she could not bear, so she took them in, provided for and sheltered them, and established a vocational training centre for them to learn the art of adire design.
The centre, located at Osogbo, the Osun State capital, has trained well over three thousand women in adire making, and also attracts a lot of visitors and students from all over the world.
Nike has galleries in Ogidi-Ijumu, her birthplace, in Kogi State, as well as Osogbo, Lagos and Abuja. Her art, craft and philanthropy have endeared her to many; she has won numerous awards both home and abroad. Nike never went to school when she was young because her grandmother could not afford the school fess, but she (Nike) has been invited to universities to give workshops and training on African art and textile design.
Nigerian fashion has become very popular and widely accepted through her works. Many Nigerian designers command respect everywhere they go. Nike, who is very traditional about the “Africanness” in her attire, commends the rate at which the Nigerian fashion industry is going. She appreciates the fact that people are coming up with different designs and ideas about Nigerian fashion, which she sees as a normal process of development.
“From our own perspective, I think it is a good step in the right direction for people to have a multiplicity of designs. We are not here to condemn what others are doing; all we are here for is to support them, provided it is not a negative aspect of life,” she says.
Nike, who only wears adire fabrics with traditional Yoruba motifs, is not happy about the way people are very post-colonially minded about their dressing. She recalls that, in the past, traditional designs on fabrics had meanings; people communicated through what they wore, designed the clothed themselves.
They addressed the issue of society; they addressed the issue of the family, and the issue of peer relationship. In her words, “Nowadays, if your dress is not European in design, you are not a designer, you are not fashionable. Why? Go around the street and you will see people exposing their nudity. We have to change our orientation and values.”
Still on African attire, the idea that only “corporate” dressing is allowed at many formal settings is not something Nike appreciates. She feels that this is because people do not appreciate what they have. They only allow traditional attires on Fridays when people are allowed to “dress down.”
For her, this means that people have “dressed down” their African attire; they do not see it as being good enough. She also feels that Nigeria should have a national attire as they should be identified by what they wear, multi ethnicity or otherwise. A single national attire should reflect the unity of the country, like the kente, worn by Ghanaians.
It has been said that art is elitist, but Nike does not share that view point. She feels that acquiring works of art can be done by people who do not have money. “A person can pick up few things on the streets which attracts their attention, but if that person wants to but works by Picasso, Dovini, Van Gogh, then you must have money; it all depends on a person’s level of collection. People think it is elitist because a man who has not eaten in days will likely not buy art works; instead, he will buy food to eat.
“A man who has nothing to wear will buy things to wear. But at the point of actualisation, after you have gotten the things you need and you feel it is important for you to decorate your environment, then you have to pay for it. An individual can also be an artist; that person can just take a brush, pencil and design something that he can put in his house, then you are an artist. It is not when you go to school to learn art that you become an artist.”
On how affordable Nike’s works are, the answer still remains what a person wants. Some of her works she gives for free. Some of her works go for N3,000, N5,000, and above. A few years ago, someone bought her work for $80,000. But still, her works are not beyond the reach of the ordinary man.
One person Nike greatly admired for her artistry was the late Susan Wenger, who she was very close to she shared her inspiration and aspiration with her. In fact, Wenger was like a mother to her.
Nike has achieved a lot, but she still hopes to achieve even more. She has established a foundation to carry on where she left – Nike Arts and Culture Foundation. In 2006, the foundation acquired a land in Abuja where she intends to set up a research institute that will research into Nigerian traditional way of life.
She feels that there has not been enough documentation of Nigerian art. The mission of the foundation is to identify, enhance and develop Nigeria’s cultural heritage within and outside the shores of Nigeria.