“You never have truly lived until you have affected lives positively…”
Thousands of youngsters hear Nike Okundaye and beam with smiles because of the positive impact she has made in their lives.
Born in Kogi State, Okundaye like every other normal human nurtured dreams to get educated and make it big in life, but unfortunately, Providence had a different plan.
She lost the opportunity to get a formal education after losing her mother to the cold hands of death at a tender age of six, a situation which she presumed to be a stepping stone to her success story.
The then bereaved Okundaye was taken to live with her grandmother who at that time was the leader of cloth weavers in their community.
From watching her grandmother closely, Okundaye soon became an expert in ‘adire’ making, dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery.
Her sheer determination to succeed through her skills birthed the establishment of Nike Arts Gallery, located in Lagos, Abuja and Osogbo.
Narrating her life’s journey, Okundaye said: “I come from a family of craftsmen. My parents were crafts people from Ogidi in Ijumu local government area, Kogi state. My life as an artist is something that I was born with. I started weaving at the age of six.
“I started with weaving different things, including adire, a traditional Yoruba hand-painted cloth design. As a matter of fact, I can say everything that had to do with textile. They taught me how to weave, using a little calabash. Gradually, I graduated to using bigger materials.
“I would cry and lament because I thought she was wicked and punishing me. But today, I always thank her for inculcating in me the virtue of hard work. It was through her that I learnt that you must persevere in whatever you do and never give up on your dreams.
“But today, I look at my childhood and all that I went through as something designed by destiny. Who knows, maybe if my mother had not died and I had gone ahead to be educated, I may never have had the kind of opportunity that I have today and may never have risen to the level that I am.”
“Not only has she gained global recognition, Okundaye’s works are celebrated in major capitals of the world, with her designs exhibited in the USA, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Italy and many others.
In 2000, the Italian government invited her to train young Nigerian sex workers to put their talents and skills into good use and after giving them lessons in craft making, many of them turned a new leaf and became self-reliant.
Six years after, Okundaye was awarded one of the highest national awards of merit by the Italian government in appreciation of her efforts in using art to address and solve the problems of Nigerian sex workers in Italy.
Though uneducated, the accomplished artist has taught in several prestigious universities in the USA and Canada including the famed Harvard University.
Her words: “I have lectured and held workshops in several noble institutions across the world. Some of the universities include Harvard, Columbus, Edmonton, Ohio and in Los Angeles, among others. My first experience with teaching was in 1974. At that time, I taught people with doctoral degrees.
“The type of education I had at the time was the education that is passed from parents to their children, not the education you get in a classroom. It was the practical type of education.”
Her Nike Centre for Art and Culture established in 1983 in Osogbo, Osun state, boasts of training over 3,000 youngsters from Nigeria in various forms of arts without any charges.
Asides giving students opportunity to explore further, the centre now admits international students from Europe, Canada and the USA for internship in textile design.
Despite her age, the sexagenarian still exudes the zeal to imbibe more knowledge young people and hopefully, more entrepreneurs will emerge from her philanthropy over time.
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