I will admit that I'm not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to art, particularly abstract art. I mean I've never quite understood the jarring mix of colours thrown together in no particular order which is what I mostly perceive abstract art to be (forgive my ignorance, art connoisseurs).
Regardless of my ignorance though, I've always respected the time and thought process that goes into creating a work of art. But as I strolled through the doors of Nike Art Gallery, I went through an epiphany of sorts as I found myself completely mesmerised by the brilliant display of art works.
Prior to my arrival, I'd been communicating with a nice gentleman via phone. It was he who answered the phone when I dialled a number right off the Nike Art Gallery website and it was he who directed me when I got slightly lost on my way there. This nice gentleman would later turn out to be Chief Richard Okundaye, an 80-year old man who could operate an iPad as well as any 21-year old whiz, and husband to Chief Mrs Nike Okundaye, owner of Nike Art Gallery. I couldn't be more surprised.
Standing at 4 stories tall (with a hidden 5th floor) and boasting between 7,000 - 8,000 art works; all done by Nigerian artists, Nike Art Gallery was indeed a field of surprises. Wall after wall was covered with mind-blowing works of Nigerian artists ranging from veterans like Bruce Onobrakpeya (who by the way clocked 81 on his last birthday) and Chief Mrs Nike herself to the younger generation like Ndidi Dioh.
But there wasn't always an air-conditioned multi-story building in place as the Nike Art Gallery traces its roots to Nike's very humble beginnings. Born in 1951 in the village of Ogidi-Ijumu, Kogi State, Nike dropped out of school in Primary 6 owing to the fact that her father who was a village traditional drummer and basket weaver could not afford to pay her fees. Upon the death of her mother and grandmother, she then went to live with her great-grandmother who was a weaver and adire textile maker. It was from her that Nike would learn and later develop her own technique and style of making adire.
Fast-forward many years and life-changing transformations later, Nike has gone on to showcase her work internationally on numerous grants. She's also diversified into other areas of art and gone ahead to economically and socially empower many rural women by setting up cottage weaving workshops/centers for women at Abuja, Osogbo and Ogidi-Ijumu. In 2009, she single-handedly built the Nike Art Gallery in furtherance of her quest to promote and provide an enabling environment for the growth of African cultural heritage in Nigeria
With the works in the gallery priced at anywhere from the neighbourhood of N20,000 to N8 million, Nike Art Gallery prides itself as a wholly Nigerian brand which has something for everyone and in the words of gallery manager, Tunji Akinsehinwa "seeks to disseminate art to everyone".
So does the gallery receive a lot of patronage? I ask her husband and co-manager, Chief Okundaye,
"Well not as much as we would like because Nigerians don't appreciate art, but we aren't doing badly either. I mean if we had our way, we'd sell out all the art work here in one day" he adds jokingly.
Stuffy, elitist and slightly uninteresting is how I'd mostly pictured an art gallery, but nothing could be farther from the case with the Nike Art Gallery. With 4 floors filled with some of the most brilliant work I've ever seen, this could definitely rival any art gallery in the world in terms of quality. But the real icing on the cake for me was the genuine warmth and friendliness of the staff...not to mention the impromptu relationship advise session with Chief Okundaye. Yep, definitely a gallery like no other!