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Nike Art Gallery

…Where art breathes

By MUSA JIBRIL

Lagos is a city crammed with art on the street––Graffiti. Metal sculptures. Abstract assemblage. But when the search is for real art, only a few places in the city give the kind of immersion craved by true art lovers. A handful of galleries exist in uptown Ikoyi and Victoria Island, and an occasional flurry of exhibitions gives an artistic dose of delirium. Yet, there is a yawning deficit of outlets that quantitatively showcase the splurge creative that throbbed in Africa’s biggest megalopolis.

That does not suggest that the city is an art wasteland though. On the contrary, pure eureka moment awaits at the four-storey basilica called Nike Art Gallery, which harbours over 15, 000 pieces of batik, paintings, carvings and a smorgasbord of other African arts.

The towering whitewashed multi-story building with relief-pattern wall––really, it looks like a transplant from the Greek Island of Santorini––is a hard-to-miss sight by the third roundabout on the Lekki-Epe expressway.

Look to your left and it is there in your face. “Nike Art Gallery”, daubed on its roof, is conspicuous from miles away.

Walking into its vicinity gives a first-time visitor an epiphany of the wao-ing experience ahead. Its fence and walls are given to magnificent artistic reliefs and sculptures of various media, the most striking being two beautifully sculptured and painted Danfo – Lagos’s iconic yellow buses – that hung on the fence amidst sculptured wooden pillars.

Some days, one can glimpse batik textiles on a line in a corner of the compound.

A walk through the doors takes you into a cool interior, into the white belly of the building where the first few minutes are of delightful surprise as you encounter. White walls, orderly and overwhelmingly festooned with paintings of myriads of colour that sprout upward, four stories high. The wall-to-wall display of artworks––15, 000 pieces––exclusively handiwork of Nigerian artists.

Any thought of the gallery as a showpiece for kitsch quickly dissipates once your eye roved and you behold original, not imitation art. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn the price of the cheapest piece is in the region of N30, 000. Neither would you be shocked to see million naira price tags on some of the works.

The paintings are vast, varied and vivid. Acrylic on canvas. Watercolour. Pen and ink on paper. Batik on cotton with natural dye. Mixed media (oil and beads) on plywood. Rice papers depicting rural idyll. Whether cubism or realism, whatever form of art, what is common to the paintings is the inimitable detailed representations of African human faces and figures. Most of the depictions are of the Lagos scenery and Yoruba folklore. 

As you ascend the floors, climbing staircases and gliding through passages of vivid arts, you are unsure of what to expect at each turn.

The first floor of the gallery features mind-blowing furniture – beautiful, sculptured wooden beds and upholstery chairs. By the time you arrive on the last floor, you would have glimpsed a huge panoply of artwork that includes some of the finest carvings and sculptures on the continent.

Every work of art has a story. The curator herself will oblige you the stories behind each artwork. And up close, you’d get an idea just how multi-dimensional Davies-Okundaye is. Many museum owners tend to be art connoisseurs. Okundaye is a hardcore, trained, talented, thorough artist.

Quick one. Nike Davis-Okundaye is renown for adire and batik, which she had patented to distinctively personal style.  If you see her at events gracile and gorgeously garbed in batik, you would agree she is a walking ad for her art. There is hardly repetition––neither in design nor in colour combinations––in her amazing batik work. She doesn’t reproduce her fashion designs.  One could see in the various manifestations of her arts “there is nothing static or rigid about Nike’s work.”

For her designs, she draws inspirations from various sources––from “her dreams, which she draws directly onto the cloth, from traditional fables, and from her most recent experiences.”

While she had learned from traditional adire artists the discipline required for her complex decorative patterning, she elevated the art to “suit her own needs and the demands of her chosen media.” Part of her ingenuity is in her combination of the old and the new, working in the modern context using traditional techniques and imagery.

Nike Art Gallery is also a curio shop where visitors can buy souvenirs such as handicrafts, jewelry, precious stones, sculptures, leather crafts and carving. There are personal items such as ankara earrings and bangles and cute key holders and beautiful scarves.

The creativity contained in the bowel of the gallery, its breadth of variety, is breathtaking––discovering the full offering, requires a full-day timeout.

Those who crave a leap into creative endeavour can take advantage of an art course at the gallery. This is usually weeklong retreat at its other centres outside of Lagos –Osogbo (Osun State), Ogidi (Kogi State) and Abuja. The tour allows visitors the opportunity to take classes and partake in creating traditional African crafts such as adire, batik, indigo dying, beadwork, painting, sculpting and carving. The centre in Oshogbo teaches traditional Yoruba drumming and dancing and the esoteric art of carving in traditional motifs and styles.

Traditional loom weavings (using organic hand spun threads to make large textiles for colourful traditional dresses), the art of embroidery (using richly coloured threads to make intricate designs and patterns) and batik wall hanging depicting traditional scenes and motifs are a few other arts to be learnt. Those interested can also delve into quilting using adire cloth and other fabrics.

Nike Art Gallery, the largest of its kind in West Africa, was built in 2009 singlehandedly by Davies-Okundaye. What is her motivation? Her drive “to promote and provide an enabling environment for the growth of African cultural heritage in Nigeria.”

She says: “My dream is to spread African arts throughout the world; and to let the unborn generations know that our culture is very rich.”

“Most of the people in the West who are interested in African art have been collecting antiquities and I think they should start investigating our modern art. One day, this contemporary art will be recognized for its worth and will fetch high prices, like antiques. To uninformed people, our art is new, but it is strong and good and will become old one day.”

Nike Art Gallery is Lagos’s Louvre, a museum anyone with art in his heart must see and there is thousands of works to look through and get inspired. So picturesque, so much to see, so little time.

The gallery opens seven days a week in a seamless flow of exhibitions, workshops and cultural days. Another motivation for a visit: Everyone is guaranteed a free entry. What’s more, cameras are permitted inside the gallery. You can take pictures of yourself as well as pictures of the art pieces you fancy––or rather, take pictures of yourself and the paintings.

Once you visit, you would understand the euphoric feeling that comes with getting lost in a labyrinth of arts where time exists in a continuum of bright colours.

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