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Drilling For Art

While the Nigerian government occupies itself with the task to discover and harness more oil, award-winning artist Nike Davies-Okundaye is on a solitary mission to unearth the artistic wealth of the country.

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A swift 30 minutes’ drive from Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos leads you to Lekki suburbs, home to the Nike Art Centre, a busy double-story building that keeps some of the best and most treasured contemporary artwork in Nigeria.

The white halls, decorated with castings of Yoruba art patterns, mimicking the unique techniques of indigo cloth dyeing, also known as Adire, display some of the 7,000 odd artistic works in this gallery.

The award-winning Nike Davies-Okundaye and her husband worked hard over decades to build a business enterprise that spans the whole of Nigeria.

Mama Nike, as she is popularly known, needs no introduction. She is one of Nigeria’s best known art entrepreneurs. Her life story rivals the drama and intrigue of classic novelist Charles Dickens’ characters—deprived orphans prodding through life against the back-drop of an ugly world, but eventually making a success of themselves at the end.

Okundaye lost her mother and grandmother at a young age. Still her misfortunes, that virtually rendered her an orphan, didn’t rein in her urge to work hard. Even with hard work her business struggled for many years to take off owing to a lack of interest in the arts by many people. Numerous other factors, including politics, contributed to her challenges. At one stage tension between the government and artists ran so high that it stifled creativity in the country. But as luck would have it, Mama Nike met her current husband who was then a senior police administrator. His influence led to the antagonism easing out and artists provided new platforms and opportunities for expression.

Okundaye started her business in 1968 as a textile artist in Kogi. At that point she used her bedroom as a gallery. She eventually moved to Oshogbo, the headquarters of her business empire today. Since then, her business has expanded and has branches in Ogidi, the capital Abuja and Lagos. The Lagos art gallery, completed in 2009, is where she generates most of the revenue that supports the operating costs of her other business centers.

“In Nigeria, only oil is discovered but good artists aren’t. My aim is to discover artists and to showcase their beautiful work in our country and in Africa as a whole” says Mama Nike.

Her art centres reveal prospect for the economic benefits that can be reaped through art in a country that offers limited opportunities for artists. They conduct workshops where art students learn the practical aspects of indigo cloth dyeing. The students are all women from surrounding poor, rural communities.

Although it costs a premium to teach, house and feed each one, the women do not pay a penny. Okundaye covers their expenses. Mama Nike also supports these women by selling their artwork on their behalf at her gallery in Lagos.

The Lagos Art Gallery caters for both first-time and seasoned art collectors with artwork prices ranging from $62 to $ 38,000.

In this gallery, some of the most sought-after artworks by well-known contemporary Nigerian artists fill the walls. The displays of painter Rom Isichei, well known for high textured surface of oil or acrylic and outstanding skill in the use of colors, take up a whole wall. The adjacent wall showcases Kunle  Adegborioye’s latest works, which capture the essence of the current political and socio-economic issues in Nigeria. The displays provide an artistic vision that depicts real life and mythical stories of hope and despair.

The gallery has made 60-year-old Okundaye’s business one of the most promising art enterprises in Nigeria. The sizable tourism industry has benefited her business in many ways. Over the years, tourists, excluding the international art collectors, have been the main consumers of her artwork. To cater for this demand, Okundaye has created a tourist paradise in each of the other three centers, namely Oshogbo, Abuja and Ogidi. The centers offer three services: guided tours, inexpensive lodges and arts exhibitions. A visit to the Oshogbo center, for example, would be more than just about her artwork. It would give a full exploration of ancient Yoruba culture. Oshgobo, in the cocoa-producing region, provides an awe-inspiring experience. The environment is enriched by the presence of internationally known artists such as Jimoh Buraimoh, Jacob Afolabi and Chief Oloruntoba.

Mama Nike believes that things would be rosier for her business if people understood the investment value of art. “You can use art as collateral at the bank and as a stock,” she explains.

Her second last daughter, Allyson-Aina Davies, recently returned from England, is planning to tap into the potential the creative industry in Nigeria and Africa has to offer. As the managing director of the Lagos gallery, she will be in charge of over 7,000 artworks of Nigeria’s finest in the industry.

The value of the creative industry is about to explode now that international and local art collectors are recognizing the investment value in Nigerian art. The 2010 UNESCO report on the creative industry indicated that “…the large majority of developing countries are not yet able to harness their creative capacity for development. This is a reflection of weaknesses both in domestic policy and in the business environment, and global systemic biases.” Benedict Enwonwu’s piece titled Underwater Still Life made waves in 2008 when it fetched $27,788 at Bonhams in London, exceeding the pre-estimates phenomenally. Two years later, Nigerian artwork was still attracting cash and collectors abroad. At the first commercial auction of artworks from sub-Saharan Africa in the United States (New York), the five most expensive pieces were from Nigeria. One of Ben Enwonwu’s paintings went for $91,000.

International interest in Nigerian art has also sparked interest locally over the past five years. The banking and the oil and gas sectors created dollar millionaires in Nigeria and out of this select group a few individual collectors have emerged. Recently, the Ben Enwonwu Foundation hosted a workshop on art as an alternative investment. Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Nigeria’s biggest collector whose collection at his house can take more than a day to view, was in attendance. He says in Nigeria “Art could be a form of investment, and is growing tremendously.” Commercial art auctions were not common in Nigeria until 07 March 2008 when Kavita Chellarams hosted the first commercial art auction in Lagos. Since then Chellarams’ Art House Contemporary has hosted seven auctions with average sales tallies exceeding 70% by volume per event. Among several of Mama Nike’s artworks that featured at these auctions were the piece entitled Village Market Scene which fetched $8,750; an untitled piece by Tola Wewe sold at $16,666; and the unsold Poetic Pattern of Love with an estimated value between $5,260 and $6,580.

Developing interest in Nigerian and African art both locally and internationally is certainly Mama Nike’s intention. Until her dreams are achieved she is unlikely to put her feet up or hit the golf course.

Billionaires

Bad Times For Billionaire Branson–Staff At Virgin Atlantic Asked To Take Unpaid Leave As Coronavirus Cripples Air Travel

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Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has been criticized by a U.K. politician for airline Virgin Atlantic’s request on Monday for staff to take eight weeks unpaid leave during the coronavirus pandemic.

Labour MP Kate Osborne, the second U.K. politician to be diagnosed with coronavirus, described Virgin Atlantic’s decision as “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter.

Author Liam Young tweeted, “Virgin Atlantic have 8,500 employees and Branson has asked them to take 8 weeks unpaid leave. It would cost £4.2 million to pay all of these employees £500 a week to cover this leave. In total that’s a cost of £34 million for 8 weeks.”

The implication appears to be that billionaire Richard Branson, whose net worth Forbes estimates $3.8 billion, could afford to cover this cost.

Virgin Atlantic confirmed in a statement Monday that it plans to reduce its schedule and prioritize routes based on customer demand. The airline predicts an 80% reduction in flights per day, and adds, “As a direct consequence we will be parking approximately 75% of our fleet by 26 March and at points in April will go up to 85%.”

Virgin Atlantic describes the changes as “drastic measures” put in place to “ensure cash is preserved, costs are controlled, and the future of the airline is safeguarded.”

Adding, “Staff will be asked to take eight weeks unpaid leave over the next three months, with the cost spread over six months’ salary, to drastically reduce costs without job losses.” The airline confirms its decision has received the support of unions BALPA and UNITE in agreeing to the unpaid leave.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure. We are appealing to the [U.K] government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5-7.5 billion, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.”

Bad Times For Branson

Branson’s business empire has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 14 the Virgin Voyages cruise ship operation decided to postpone the launch of its new Scarlet Lady cruise line. “The current global health crisis is understandably making many people rethink upcoming travel plans,” Virgin Voyages confirmed in a statement.

On March 5, British airline Flybe — which is part owned by Virgin Atlantic— collapsed after it succumbed to its financial woes and weakened demand because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Following the announcement of Flybe’s collapse, Virgin Atlantic said: “Sadly, despite the efforts of all involved to turn the airline around, not least the people of Flybe, the impact of Covid-19 on Flybe’s trading means that the consortium can no longer commit to continued financial support.”

Flybe, which once was Europe’s largest independent regional carrier, narrowly escaped collapse in January, after being bought by Cyrus Capital, Virgin Atlantic and Stobart last year.

Virgin Galactic, Branson’s publicly traded space tourism arm, has seen its shares slump since its mid February high of $37.26 on the NYSE. Having lost another 10% of value as of 4:30 pm U.K. time on Monday, Virgin Galactic is priced at $13.30 and falling. Branson’s Virgin Investment Limited owns 47% of Virgin Galactic through an investment entity, Vieco.

David Dawkins, Forbes Staff, Billionaires

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Life

#ExecutiveTravel: Unathi Nkayi’s Ghana

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In the coastal country’s capital Accra, the South African musician savored street food and a different kind of music, in tandem with the sound of the waves.

For Unathi Nkayi, life is all about investing in experiences, be it in her music or her travel sojourns.

The popular South African musician and Idols South Africa judge has lived in and visited several countries around the world, but one of her most abiding memories of a holiday was last year in the coastal African country Ghana.

“I felt the beauty of the continent in Ghana and her pride and respect and her anointing,” Nkayi tells FORBES AFRICA.

In December, she accompanied a friend who was traveling to the West African country, and spent six days in the capital Accra, well into the New Year.

They stayed at the Mövenpick, situated on a busy street down the road from the military base, the presidential house and in close proximity to the beach.

“I’m a beach person so wherever I travel for leisure, I have to be on the coast,” says Nkayi.

On New Year’s Day, she was at one of Ghana’s most popular beaches, Labadi Beach, and it was the most beautiful she had seen – and what attracted her to it more, were the Afro beats emanating from it as she arrived at the parking lot.

The air was spiked with a medley of music, from Burna Boy to Tiwa Savage to D’banj and Wizkid.

As she sauntered closer to the white sandy shores, the music got louder and it became apparent it came from the restaurants serving food to serpentine queues of visitors on the beach.

With music in the air, and the clear blue waters of the ocean under her feet, Nkayi experienced a serene calm as she closed her eyes and shut out her city life in far-away Johannesburg.

The two-hour professional spa massage she received on the beach, with the sound of the waves in her ear, made her de-stress totally. After that, it was time for some soul food on the busy streets of Accra.

Busy Nima area.

“You park on the streets and your table and chairs are on the street. And then, they bring you a tank with live fish and you choose,” she says of the unique experience savoring local delicacies.

She relished her fish with jollof rice and some plantain, the local staples that took her on a culinary journey.

“It was very multicultural in that sense, and experiencing the vastness of Ghana which is absolutely beautiful.”

Apart from the food, the culture and the scenery, Nkayi greatly appreciated the people.

“They are the most gracious people I have met,” she says of their welcoming nature.

Nkayi grew up in Namibia, England and Wales, studied in the Netherlands and Spain, has traveled to France and Belgium, but says nothing compares to visiting countries like Ghana.

“There’s a grace and respect I feel that I don’t feel in the rest of the world,” she says. “It is almost royal.”

She was especially impressed with the way Ghanaian men treat women.

“They adore women… there’s a deliberate acknowledgement of the feminine presence of power,” she says.

Hailing from a country where the femicide rate is one of the highest in the world, she was struck by these genteel attributes.

“For example, there are certain things I do not wear in South Africa. There are certain parts of my closet I only go to when I go on holiday [to places like Ghana], and that is because I know that the West African man will not whistle at me, and he will not call me ma bhebheza [meaning ‘my baby’ as a form of cat-calling].

“There’s an adoration West Africa has for women that I don’t get to experience in any other part of the world,” she says, adding this is something all countries could learn from.

More on Ghanaian hospitality: on one particular morning in Accra, she and her friend visited a local couple who cooked them a three-course meal for brunch.

Alcohol of every kind was offered, including some of the finest from Nkayi’s home country, South Africa.

But what she loved most was the sauce that accompanied her meal.

“There’s a Ghanaian fish sauce I love called shito,” she says.

It’s a hot pepper soup that consists of fish or vegetable oil, ginger, dried fish, prawns, crustaceans, tomatoes, garlic, peppers and spices.

The couple gifted her with three jars of shito that they made, which she carried back home, and thrust into her freezer, so she could enjoy them for longer.

And what can South Africa learn from Ghana?

“Everything!” says Nkayi.

“We need to be more open, and we need to be more hospitable. We need to look at our own continent the same way we marvel at traveling to America or Europe… Africa is beautiful and I marvel at how complex she is.”

Nkayi hopes to visit Ghana again, but not just yet.

Her next trip is to another pristine beach, at Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, for the carnival in February 2020.

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Travel

Emerging Economies, But Weaker Passports

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Africa dominates the bottom of the rung in the 2020 Henley Passport Index. A majority of the continent’s passport-holders don’t have the luxury of visa-free travel around the world.

[To see the infographic on Africa’s rankings, click on the image]

The African Union may be gearing for a common African passport, but for now, it seems like most African passports don’t have what it takes to get to other parts of the world.

In the recently-released Henley Passport Index, which measures all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, only two African countries –Seychelles and Mauritius — are in the top 50.

The rest of the continent dominates the bottom quarter of the rankings with weaker passports than most, pointing to difficult and intensive visa processes in most cases.

Africa’s biggest economy and one of its most influential, Nigeria, is at the end of the travel freedom spectrum, at a pitiful number 95 with Djibouti. Nigeria’s population of 200 million can only travel to 46 countries without obtaining a visa in advance. 

Even passport-holders from Samoa and Serbia have a better chance of traveling to most places in the world, visa-free, than those in South Africa, the African continent’s second biggest economy.

Ranked 56, the number of global destinations South African passport-holders can travel to is 100.

It is followed by its southern African neighbor, Botswana, ranking at 62 with a score of 84.

Seychelles, the archipelago country in the Indian Ocean, is Africa’s top-ranking African passport in this regard, at 29 with access to 151 destinations worldwide.

It is quickly followed by Mauritius which is at 32 with a score of 146 destinations passport-holders of this country can visit.

The lowest-ranking African country is Somalia at 104. Passport-holders from this tiny nation in the Horn of Africa can only visit 32 countries without a pre-departure visa

Globally, Asia dominates the list. For the third consecutive year, Japan has secured the top spot on the index — which is based on exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — with a visa-free/visa-on-arrival score of 191. Singapore holds on to its second place position with a score of 190.

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