A visit to the United States of America’s White House will reveal some of the works of the founder and proprietor of the Ogidi-Ijumu, Chief Oyenike Okundaye, the visual artist. With neither government fund nor corporate sponsor, Okundaye’s Nike Centre for Art and Culture, has been of tremendous relevance both home and abroad.
Her God-given talent, which she later developed and eventually marketed to the art world, has elevated her into the exclusive class of philanthropists that the black race can be proud of.
Worried by the rough path she travelled while growing up in her Ogidi-Ijumu community of Kogi State, Okundaye resolved to impact positively on others, especially society’s indigent.
She, therefore, set up in 1983 her very first centre in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, and opened its door wide for interested women to learn the nitty-gritty of adire fabric, a vocation that metamorphosed into one huge, profitable enterprise. The Osogbo centre was symbolic in Okundaye’s career because of the role the ancient town played in her life.
According to her, her best moments have always remained instances when she is surrounded by women watching their life being transformed for the better. Her success story recorded at the Osogbo centre gave birth to another centre in Ogidi-Ijumu and also at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Okundaye extending her resolve to succeed upon the realisation that hers is a society where men, according to her, seem to appropriate a lot of advantages over women.
Although she would always say she has nothing against African culture and tradition because she is seen world over as a promoter of the culture in her area of specialty, she believes women need to be empowered to effectively complement men.
That, for her, was a compelling reason she came up with the concept of assisting women to make a living through adire fabric, indigo cloth dying and batik. “I am very delighted that God has helped me to put smiles on the faces of those people. They can now fend for themselves by making and selling their materials. The market is already there for them. My watchword is that they should not compromise quality with which I am known and patronised,” she said.
Okundaye cannot be charged of gender discrimination because of the various men who have passed through her school and many still under her apprenticeship. Hers is genuine poverty reduction with her tireless efforts in expending her resources in raising entrepreneurs.
How then does she make money to sustain her social status? This question can best be answered with a visit to her gallery conspicuously located at Lekki in Lagos. The all-white two-storey art edifice houses multi-million naira art items of various categories.
The gallery is a must for foreign visitors to Nigeria including diplomats who enjoy going round it and picking one, two or more items of their choice on their way out. Celebrated tennis icons, the Williams sisters, had a stopover and indeed breakfast with Chief Okundaye at the gallery during one of their visits to Nigeria a while ago.
While she would not shy away from the importance of the right remuneration for her and her numerous staff, she, however, believes money naturally follows beautiful works, hence her little emphasis on money.
“I don’t like to talk of my works in terms of money. They are more than that. They cannot be quantified. Watching people coming around and expressing appreciation of our works go a long way to send the joy back to me. I am thankful to God for what he has done for me so far as regards reward but as I always say money should not determine one’s passion,” she counseled.
Having attended quite a lot of local and particularly international exhibitions, her gallery too has remained open for exhibition and has played host to established and budding artists. She is simply a role model to many of them. To her, she is fulfilled with the hordes of international awards she has over the years received as well as her several meetings with world leaders including former US President Bill Clinton and Barak Obama among others.