Not many in her homeland appear to know about her unique story. But in other lands, especially Europe and America, she is a ‘goddess’ whose works are cherished by kings and presidents.
Meet Nike Monica Okundaye, a 64 years old Nigerian Batik and Textile designer who has no formal education but lectures at one of the World’s most prestigious universities – Harvard University.
It would be noted that Nike never went to school to study art, vocational training in art was passed down to her by her grandmother. Watching her grandma in the art of adire textile processing and helping her, Nike was practicing herself and became an expert in adire making, dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery.
Today, Nike is a world acclaimed artist and textile designer. Her works are celebrated in major capitals of the world, with her designs exhibited in the USA, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Italy and many others.
The Italian government invited Nike to train young Nigerian sex workers in 2010 on how to use their hands to engage in creative ventures. When the talented designer got to Italy, she taught Nigerian women skills in craft making and many of them became self-reliant and stopped their old means of income. In 2006, she 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.
Some works of Nike can be found amongst the collection of prominent politicians around the world, including the White House. Two former presidents of the USA, Bill Clinton and George Bush, were so impressed by her works at various times that they sought audience with her during their visits to Nigeria. Nike not only met and shook hands with the two former presidents, she even decorated George Bush’s room in Abuja during his visit to the country.
According to her, these two incidents, were some of the best things to have happened to her in her life. “When President Bill Clinton of the US visited Nigeria, he asked to meet the woman behind Nike Gallery, and I was taken to Abuja to meet him. It was the same thing with President George Bush. I was invited to meet him in Abuja during his visit to Nigeria. I was the one that decorated the room where the president stayed during the visit. What honour can be greater than this? I feel accomplished.”
Nike has taught in several prestigious universities in the USA and Canada. “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,” she said.
In 1983, she established the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Osogbo, Osun state, where trainings are offered free of charge to Nigerians in various forms of arts. The centre was opened with 20 young girls who were picked from the streets and offered free food, free materials and a new life in arts.
So far, more than 3,000 young Nigerians have been trained there. The centre also admits undergraduate students from many universities in Nigeria for their industrial training programmes in textile design. Now it also admits students from Europe, Canada and the USA.