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Crafts: Nike Davies Okundaye

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Nike Davies-Okundaye, was brought up amidst the traditional weaving and dying as practised in her home town of Ogidi, Kogi State, in North Central Nigeria, though she has become known for a modern approach to traditional themes in her colourful batik and paintings.

Mrs. Davis-Okundaye ended her formal education at primary 6 in her village at Ogidi-Ijumu, Kogi State, in North Central Nigeria. She discovered art when she was only seven years old while staying with her great grandmother who she learnt the craft of traditional weaving and dying from.

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Watching her great grandmother in the art of adire textile processing and helping her out, she became an expert in the adire art, dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery. Mama Nike didn’t even study art; the medium through which she has achieved global fame, art came naturally to her.

However, she went ahead to teach herself English at home while her great grandmother, late madam Ibitola, an accomplished adire textile maker and a dyer of fabric in her days, passed down the training to her.

Mama Nike spent the early part of her life in Oshogbo which is recognized as one of the major centres for art and culture in Nigeria. During her stay in Oshogbo, her informal training was dominated by Indigo and Adire. She is today a proud product of the famous Oshogbo Art School.

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At 13 she ran away from home and joined a travelling theatre before settling down to stay with her aunt in Osogbo. There she met the late renowned artist, Suzanne Wenger became an inspiration for her. Before long she started carving, weaving and painting textiles.

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She started her first gallery in 1983, in Osogbo. After drinking from the rich fountain of Suzanne Wenger’s spring, she relocated home and branched out on her own, selling her art works as well as holding workshops for people to create or sell their own art pieces.

In 1996, Nike established an Aso-Oke (textile) weaving center at Ogidi-Ijumu for the women of the village. The centre’s impact was felt in the town, employing and empowering more than 200 women.

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Six years later, she established another art centre, this time the Art and Culture Research Center at Piwoyi village, FCT Abuja. The centre had an art gallery and a textile museum, the first of its kind in Nigeria to provide functional platform for research into Nigerian traditional textile industry in the Federal Capital Territory area of Abuja.

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Over the past twenty years she has given workshops on traditional Nigerian textiles to audiences in the United States and Europe.

Finding that the traditional methods of weaving and dying that had been her original inspiration were fading in Nigeria, Davies-Okundaye set about launching a revival of this aspect of Nigerian culture, building art centres offering free courses for young Nigerians to learn traditional arts and crafts.

Mama Nike is currently the managing director and founder of the following organisations in Nigeria; Nike Art Productions Limited, which she incorporated in 1994, Nike Art Gallery Limited, which she incorporated in 2007 and the Nike Research Centre for Art and Culture Limited, incorporated in 2007. Also in 2007, she founded the Nike Art and Culture Foundation with some eminent Nigerians as trustees, with the aims and objectives of fostering Nigerian cultural heritage.

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Her son Olabayo Olaniyi, College of Santa Fe graduate, is also an artist. Davies-Okundaye has more than 150 students in Europe and America. She is also a philanthropist.

A book about Davies was written by Kim Marie Vaz, The Woman with the Artistic Brush: A Life History of Yoruba Batik Artist Nike Davies.

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