Nike Okundaye was born in 1951 in Ogidi, Kogi State, Nigeria, and grew up surrounded by the traditional weaving and dyeing practices of her hometown. Her parents and great grandmother were musicians and artisans who specialized in cloth weaving, adire making, indigo dyeing, and leather work. She spent a portion of her childhood in Osogbo, Western Nigeria, now known as Osun State. Osogbo is also regarded as a major cultural and artistic center in Nigeria. As a child in Osogbo, Nike was exposed to indigo dyeing and Adire production, which dominated her informal education.
She has given workshops on traditional Nigerian textiles to audiences in the United States and Europe for the past twenty years. In 1968, she had her first solo exhibition at the Goethe Institute in Lagos. She is the founder and director of four art centers that provide free training in the visual, musical, and performing arts to over 150 young artists and house over 7,000 artworks.
When she discovered that the traditional methods of weaving and dyeing that had inspired her in the first place were fading in Nigeria, Davies-Okundaye set about reviving this aspect of Nigerian culture by establishing art centers that offered free courses for young Nigerians to learn traditional arts and crafts. “One thing shared by many of the latest generation of African artists in the diaspora - those who have been successful on the art circuit - is that their work critiques the very burden of representation that is also the condition of their visibility,” writes art historian John Peffer.
The traditional art of Adire Eleko, in her opinion, is only possible because of a specific Nigerian heritage of passing knowledge from generation to generation. Okundaye says in a video interview published by Nubia Africa that "school can only teach what they [art students] already know." According to a CNBC Africa interview, she has trained over 3000 young Nigerians for free and continues to assist the poor by funding the establishment of small businesses and art workshops in various parts of Nigeria.
Davies-Okundaye uses art to improve the lives of disadvantaged women in Nigeria. At her workshop in south-west Nigeria, she teaches rural women the unique techniques of indigo cloth dyeing (Adire). She aspires to resurrect the centuries-old tradition as well as the lives of these women. Adire, which means "tied and dyed," is indigenous to Nigeria's southwest region. Adire Eleko is another name for freehand dyeing. "Adire" refers to indigo dye, and "Eleko" refers to the pattern-making technique of boiled cassava, lime, and alum resist. There is a strong incentive to keep dyeing recipes and methods hidden from curious outsiders.
Davies-Okundaye chooses to constantly reference Adire patterns in her artwork because Adire is a women's art that her mother taught her. Adire pattern motifs were traditionally passed down from mother to daughter, and the designs themselves have remained virtually unchanged over time.
Davies-Okundaye was featured on CNN International's "African Voices," which explores the lives and passions of Africa's most engaging personalities.
Furthermore, as of 2012, Nike's painting is permanently displayed at The Smithsonian Museum, and her work is also in the collections of the Gallery of African Art and The British Library in London. She holds the chieftaincy titles of Ogidi-Yeye Ijumu's Oba and Oshogbo's Yeye Tasase.
She was previously married to fellow Nigerian artist Twins Seven Seven, but the marriage was annulled. Olabayo Olaniyi, a College of Santa Fe graduate, is another artist in the family. Davies-Okundaye has over 150 students in Europe and the United States. She is a philanthropist as well.
Below are beautiful pictures of her.
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