I knew that there was no way I was leaving Lagos without visiting one of the largest homes of Nigerian art and culture, Nike Art Gallery.
I had seen photos go viral on Instagram prior to my visit of the gallery. It seemed that visitors with some luck on their side were fortunate enough to be graced by the presence of Nike Okundaye herself during their tour of the property. I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that I too would fall in the hands of fate and be graced with her presence as well.
The gallery’s lights were off when I walked through the entryway and I had begun questioning whether it was closed. I stood there confused for a few seconds but decided to continue my entry into the building anyway. I approached a dark room and was greeted with the warmest welcome by a soft voice in the corner of the room. Turning my head to follow the voice, my glare landed on a sight that left me in complete shock. Nike Okundaye …in the flesh!
Barely having any time to process my emotions, my attention was immediately drawn to another voice in the dark room. A male’s voice. The encounter escalated quickly as the dialogue became more of an interrogation. Elderly Africans are very fond of this by the way. They’ll question your life away to scope you out before deciding whether you are worthy of being in their midst. What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from? Who are your parents? What do you do? Casual questions from a man I had never met and still could not put a face to because the lights in the room were still off. Although I was taken aback by his inquiries, I answered the questions anyway.
Well it turns out that I answered his questions to his liking because he signalled one of the staff to turn the lights on and asked me to pull my mom (who was comfortably seated in the car with our driver, waiting for me to finish with my explorations) into the gallery to nurture his inquisitive nature. He then proceeded to say “You’re lucky you know. We don’t turn on the lights for just anyone.” I chuckled and told him I was grateful.
As it turned out, he was also born and raised in the same residential area as my mother and had similar stories relating to their upbringing. As my mom fed his curiosity through conversation, both reminiscing on their days in Benin, I was rewarded with the opportunity to slip away and share a short but intimate session with Mummy Nike. It would turn out that the man behind the questions was her husband and my connection to his native roots had struck a chord of interest with her.
Mummy Nike insisted on giving me a private tour of the gallery. She provided deep insight into the pieces in the gallery and the inspiration behind some of her personally crafted paintings. Check out some of the meticulously curated pieces below.
As we walked through the gallery, she became fond of my curiosity and took a keen liking to me.
I disclosed that the primary purpose for our trip to Nigeria was to purchase clothing, jewelry and traditional pieces for my traditional wedding taking place in Canada. When she asked where in Canada it would be and I replied Edmonton, she literally jumped for joy. She shared stories of her visit to Edmonton in January of 2008 for an art workshop and her stay in one of the campus dormitories; also emphasizing sternly that she would not return in January because it was way too cold for her liking.
Before departing, she insisted we play dress-up. She clothed me in the customary Edo coral beads and took it upon herself to crown me with an Okuku.
Nike Okundaye is a kindred spirit. A phenomenal soul.
My visit ended with a prayer from Nike toward my life, goals/aspirations and my upcoming wedding. I spent less than an hour with her but knew that I’d been gifted an experience to last a lifetime. Luck was indeed on my side.
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