2019 LSA DISTINGUISHED PERSONALITY AWARD: NIKE OKUNDAYE (ARTIST AND GALLERY OWNER)
Nomination Submitted by Titilope Salami
Graduate Student, University of Lagos
On April 13, 2019, Rhodes University, one of South Africa’s leading institutions of higher learning will confer distinguished Nigerian artists Nike Okundaye with an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts (honoris causa). Okundaye has used her international success to create a cultural revival in Nigeria. She is a multi-talented international icon, who started her career as a dancer, singer, actress, and guitarist, and walked up the ladder to become an accomplished professional artist. She is a painter, a textile artist, a weaver, an embroider, and winner of many awards, both at national and international levels. She established four art centres in the country, one of which is the Nike Art Gallery in Lagos. The other centres are in Oshogbo, Ogidi-Ijumu, and Abuja. These centres provide visibility for female artists and a conducive environment for them to exhibit their talents. Since the 1970s, Okundaye has given workshops on traditional Nigerian textiles in Nigeria, North America, and Europe.
Born in 1951 at Ogidi Ijumu in Kogi State, Okundaye became motherless at the tender age of six. She lived with her grandmother for a year before going to Jos to live with her great-grandmother. She did not stay long with her great-grandmother. Not that she died. She was forced to move back to her father’s house. She could not continue her education beyond primary school due to the limited attention given to female education. The blessing, however, was that she had learned to perfect adire production and embroidery from her great-grandmother during that short stay. She later went to Kabba to work as a babysitter at the age of sixteen when she discovered her father’s intention to marry her off to an old rich polygamous merchant.
At Kabba, she joined a travelling theatre company and performed from town to town before finding her way to Oshogbo through the help of her first husband, Taiwo Adeniyi (alias Twin Seven Seven). At Oshogbo, she continued working as an actress and singer, under her husband, who took the credit for much of her artistic work. However, due to her brilliance, Okundaye was able to carve a niche for herself. As of 2019, she has carried out over 102 and 36 solo and group exhibitions, respectively. She had her first solo exhibition at the Goethe Institute, Lagos in 1968, where she showcased masterpieces which led to the beginning of her international recognition. She built the Oshogbo art centre in 1983 with earnings from her artworks. The centre was opened with twenty under-privileged young girls. Ever since, the centre has been opened to women all over the country. Her centre in Ogidi-Ijumu was established in 1996 to train rural women in Aso-Oke weaving. In 2002, the Abuja centre which consists of a gallery and a textile museum was established. She capped it all with the Nike Art Gallery, established in Lagos in 2009.
Okundaye has also conducted workshop for college students in the United States and Europe. Although she did not have more than a primary school education, she has acquired the vocabulary to engage with the academic discourse of art at the highest level of intellectualism. Her first exhibition in the United States in 1974 gained her significant fan base, which she has built on over the decades. Also in 1974, she was appointed as one of the ten African artists to tour and teach arts and crafts in institutions across the United States. Her painting has been on constant display at The Smithsonian Museum since 2012. Her works also featured at the Gallery of African Art and The British Library in London. In addition to all these international accolades, she holds the chieftaincy titles of ‘Yeye Oba’ of Ogidi-Ijumu, ‘Yeye Tasase’ of Oshogbo, and ‘Yeye Gbasaga’ of Ijumu Kingdom.The themes of Okundaye’s work focused on the place of women across changing cultural and political landscape. Her artistic imagination places history in conversation with everyday life.