Nike Davies-Okundaye: A Retrospective

9 October - 22 November 2014

The Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) is pleased to present an exhibition of works by acclaimed Nigerian artist Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye. Bringing together works from an international practice spanning over forty years, this retrospective marks the return to the UK of a formidable African artist and icon.

Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye is known for her work with Nigerian traditional textiles - Adire, indigo cloth dyeing and batik. Davies-Okundaye learnt the techniques of traditional weaving and fabric dyeing principally from her great-grandmother who was a weaver and Adire textile maker/dyer during her lifetime. Adire is an indigo dyed cloth produced by Yoruba women in southwestern Nigeria. Once a fading industry, Chief Davies-Okundaye is credited with the contemporary revival of Adire. Her textile work draws upon traditional themes and motifs from her Yoruba heritage reworked with a modernist eye. Her dynamic compositions and rich colour palette explore subjects that include natural phenomena, religion, folklore and mythology.  The batik work Arugba (1978) is one of several textiles featured. The piece depicts a festival that takes place in Osogbo, western Nigeria.


Chief Davies-Okundaye's paintings have been informed by her textile practice, evidenced in the use of symbols derived from the Adire cloth. These symbols are not merely decorative; each one has a specific meaning. In Angel (2004), cornrow braided angels play traditional African instruments against a backdrop of ordered geometric patterns that seek to caution, offer counsel or give praise.  InPattern of Our Heritage (1992), Chief Davies-Okundaye pays tribute to the generations of female Adire weavers - Adire symbols were traditionally passed on by a mother to her daughter.


A highlight of the exhibition includes the early monochromatic pen and ink works by Chief Davies-Okundaye. The work Adam and Eve First Love (1978), was produced during her time spent at the famed Osogbo School of Art  - under the guidance of Susanne Wenger. The Osogbo School of Art was a series of experimental art workshops pioneered by Ulli Beier and Susanne Wenger during the 1960s. The later work Drumming (1984), reveals the beginnings of the intricate pattern making that has become her signature. The exhibition also showcases the delicate watercolours that Chief Davies-Okundaye has produced since 1999. These include self-portraits, landscapes and observations from daily life.


Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye's reach as a visual artist also extends to her collaborations with fellow Nigerian artist Tola Wewe. A partnership stretching back many years, Wewe has described their practice as 'a visual copula, a kind of lyrical romance on canvas'. The exhibition includes both early and recent 'Nike and Tola' works in a variety of scales - from the compact Blossoms of Life (2000) to the expanse of Pillars of Love (2010). In the Feminine Power Series (2002), Tola Wewe's geometric shapes and stylised forms are complemented by the detailed designs of Chief Davies-Okundaye. The shared Yoruba roots of the artists are found in the beautiful motifs, which appear in many of their compositions. These motifs, which include the fish - a symbol of fertility and the elephant - a sign of strength and vigour, are derived from Yoruba folklore. Recent works such as The Prince and His Bride (2014), suggests a new stylistic direction in their enduring partnership.