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Nike Davies Okundaye, The Nigerian Woman Who Lectures At Harvard Without A University Education Herself
I am almost certain you must be thinking “Na Yoruba Engineering lecturer she go be“, well, if that is what you were thinking, you are wrong! And then you might wonder how she can look like that (with the oversize gele) and yet lecture at Harvard?
Well, mama is repping Naija! This woman is exceptional and it is interesting to note that she is more popular overseas than locally! Do you know her? Yes? read to find out more; no? what are you still waiting for? Read about Nike Davies Okundaye and be inspired!
Nike Davies Okundaye has broken barriers, traveled the World and teaches in foreign universities all because of her art (even her dressing is so artistic). These are excerpts from a recent interview with Mrs Nike Davies as published by Newsacross
Without a doubt, the story of Nike Okundaye, the face behind the huge success story of Nike Arts Gallery, located in Lagos, Abuja, and Osogbo, is as compelling as it is inspiring. At a time when young Nigerians are in desperate need of a role model and inspiration in what self-belief and hard work can achieve, Nike’s rise from the status of an unknown village girl born into a seeming insignificant family in a rustic village to a globally celebrated icon would make an A-list inspirational novel
She said: “I come from a family of craftsmen. My parents were craftspeople 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.”
“My grandmother was the head of all the weavers in our community. So, even as a little child, I already had a dream that I would own a big studio when I grew up. People came from different areas to buy the cloth from her. So, at that time, I already sensed that I might not have the opportunity to go to school.”
Although she lost her mother at a time she needed her most, Nike believes that destiny might have been involved in the way her life played out, including her mother’s death. According to her, the mother was a very hard-working young woman who would have spared nothing to ensure that her child got a good education up to the university level.
“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.”
Nike never went to school to study art, the vocation that has brought her to the global spotlight. Vocational training in art was passed down to her by her great grandmother, the late Madam Ibikunle. Watching her great grandmother in the art of “adire” textile processing and helping her out, Nike walked up the line to become an expert in “adire” making, dyeing, weaving, painting, and embroidery
A product of the famous Osogbo Art Movement, Nike is today a world acclaimed artist and textile designer. She brings vivid imagination as well as a wealth of history and tradition into the production of ‘adire”. Her works are celebrated in major capitals of the world, with her designs exhibited in countries like the USA, Belgium, Germany, Japan, and Italy, among others.
“Among Nike’s proudest achievements was her invitation to Italy by the Italian government in 2000 to train young Nigerian sex workers on how to use their hands to engage in creative ventures. Her invitation was as a result of complaints to the Italian government by the young Nigerians that they left Nigeria in search of work, not knowing what they would be forced into. When Nike got to Italy, she taught them skills in craft making and many of the women became self-reliant in no time and stopped their old means of income.
In 2006, she was awarded one of the highest Italian national awards of merit by the government of the Republic of Italy in appreciation of her efforts in using art to address and solve the problems of Nigerian sex workers in Italy.
About 8 years ago, her “adire” painting was accepted at The Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum, located in Washington DC, US. Some of her works can be found amongst the collection of prominent personalities around the world, including the White House.
While little is known about Nike and her works across the country, two former presidents of the USA, Bill Clinton, and George Bush were so enthralled by her works at various times that they sought audience with her during their visits to Nigeria. Much more than just meeting and shaking hands with the two former presidents, it was Nike that decorated George Bush’s room in Abuja during his stay in the country.
“I have lectured and held workshops in several noble institutions across the world. Some of the universities include Harvard, Columbus, Edmonton, Ohio, and Los Angeles, among others. My first experience with teaching was in 1974. At that time, I taught people with doctorate degrees”
In spite of her seeming low education, she insists she has no regrets about not attending school. “I have no regrets at all. I give thanks to God for making all these things possible for me. I also thank my husband for standing by me all these years. I must confess that it was not easy coming this far. You will agree with me that for a woman to be recognized, she has to work three times harder than a man.”