Chief, Mrs. Nike Okundaye-Davies: The Founder of Nike Art Gallery

Chief, Mrs. Nike Okundaye-Davies: The Founder of Nike Art Gallery

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Chief Nike (pronounced “Ne-Kay”) Okundaye-Davies is one of Nigeria’s most famous artists. She was born in central Nigeria in 1951, during the nationalistic decolonization period. In her early childhood, Nike lived in Osogbo, a traditional city in southwestern Nigeria, and began working in the family’s art trade when she was just six years old. This was how Nigerians “passed [on] education in those days,” Nike explained. The rule was, “whatever you do, you teach your children.” Nike's great-grandmother nurtured her art skills because her family didn’t have enough money to enroll her in school.

In 1968, at the age of seventeen, Nike had her first art exhibition at the Goethe Institute in Lagos, Nigeria. She displayed her adorned adire and batik textiles and became well-known for her colorful designs. Today, her artwork is publicly displayed globally, including in the Smithsonian Museum (the world’s largest museum) in America and at the Gallery of African Art in London. Nike became a prominent figure in the art community and has trained hundreds of students from around the world in the arts of adire and batik.


Students learning adire from Nike (left). Picture courtesy of Pleasure Magazine.

As Nike's global influence peaked, she recognized that there was a decreased interest in the arts in her home country so and she set up art centers across Nigeria - including the Nike Art Gallery in Lagos.

The Nike Art Gallery

Although the Nike Art Gallery wasn't officially established until 2009, Nike says its roots can be traced back much further. “The Nike Art Gallery first opened in 1968 in my bedroom,” she said. She explained how her trip to the United States in 1974 exposed her to how galleries were set up and properly managed. “[In the U.S.,] each work of the artist is their voice, and that is my mission,” she said. “I want all the voices of the artists in Nigeria to be heard.”

This was where she derived the idea to go from working out of her home, to owning and operating her own art gallery where hundreds of art pieces are publicly displayed.

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Artwork from displayed outside the Nike Art Gallery. Photo courtesy, Omose Ighodaro

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Artwork displayed inside the Nike Art Gallery. Photo courtesy, Omose Ighodaro

Today, the Nike Art Gallery is one of the most glamorous art centers in Africa. It houses vintage art that dates back centuries and captures Nigeria’s rich history. The three-story building preserves thousands of artworks including fabric designs, paintings, and impressive metal and wooden sculptures. It also offers art students and teachers the opportunity to display their designs and possibly sell them to art enthusiasts and collectors. “These arts should [be seen by] people who really love creativity,” Nike opined, “but they [needed] a place to see it.”

Tens of thousands of guests each year marvel at the creativity put on display at the Nike Art Gallery. When speaking with Nike, she told me she has had the pleasure of meeting the likes of the Moroccan King, Mohammed VI. The best news is admission to the gallery is free and guests are even encouraged to take pictures if they appear in the frame.

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Omose Ighodaro pictured at Nike Art Gallery

Such an admirable woman took the time to speak with me and in doing so, she made me feel welcomed - certainly she will do the same for you. The next time you’re in Nigeria, the Nike Art Gallery is absolutely a great place to visit. Be sure to speak with Nike and tell her I said hey!

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