How 3,000 Nigerian sex workers in Italy became artists – Nike Okundaye

The Founder, Nike Art Gallery, Mrs Nike Okundaye, popularly known as “Mama Nike”, said she changed the narratives of 5,000 Nigerian professional sex workers through artwork training in Italy.

Okundaye disclosed this on Thursday at the “Destination Marketing Strategy in Cultural Tourism“ organised by the National Council for Arts and Culture in Abuja.

She said that she had a passion for training the trainers’ programme because she aimed at using artwork to reduce poverty, unemployment and crimes in society.

“My love is to train and people I trained should train other people. I was in Italy training Nigerian prostitutes, 5, 000 of them. We used artwork to change 3,000 to become artists.

“These paintings you are seeing here are the ones that started in 1995.

“A lot of those prostitutes are now engaged and they are no more prostitutes.

“I was born into art, I am a fifth generation artists from my family and the way they passed education to the kids in those days, you teach your child what you do.

“When I completed Primary Six and I did not have money to attend secondary school, the weaving of “adire“ and the painting that I learnt from my father and mother are what I am doing today.

“I started this because of poverty but from poverty, I was able to become an icon in the society,” she said.

Okundaye urged the youth to practise what they learnt from their parents and upgrade it in a creative manner.

“The message I have for the youth is that if your parents used akara money to train you, you have to upgrade that akara to burger.

“Upgrade and follow your heart and do things you have learnt from your parents. Do them and create them in a good way and always think positive,” she said.

Okundaye said since she opened the Nike Art Gallery in Abuja, youths have been coming over for training.

“I have had a training centre here since 1996. I have over 2,000 artworks in this edifice.

“I have a lot of artists that I trained. When I trained them, they trained others and they bring their works and if we sell them, they give us 10 per cent of the total cost,” she said.

In his remarks, the Director-General of NCAC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, said he supported Nike Art Gallery to make it a destination market for Nigeria.

Runsewe described the arts and culture sector as public-private driven.

He said if Nike Art Gallery was given necessary support it would go a long way in reducing unemployment and crimes in the country.

“In most cases, we make mistakes in Africa for not recognising our own, not believing in our own and not developing our own.

“If the private sector or an individual can put up this type of gallery, what we need as the government is to support.

“This can generate a lot of resources for the country. If you travel to other parts of the world, they have galleries like this that you will pay to visit.

“One of the fundamental aspects of tourism is experience. Some people have never seen this number of paintings and fabric designs,” he said.

He recalled that three weeks ago when an ambassador saw Fela’s painting, he felt like removing his dress.

“This is because he is one of the big fans of Fela. He continued taking pictures with Fela’s artwork.

“These paintings you see are therapy on their own. Some people when they are sick or down, this is what they use to come up with.

“We need to use what we have now to develop and promote our country. There are so many artworks here that can speak for Nigeria.

“For me, we will support Nike Arts Gallery and make it a destination in order to market the country,” he said.


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