African artists join the NFT gold rush


When the 30-year-old artist Osinachi was growing up in Aba, a town in southeastern Nigeria, he was obsessed with screens. His father was an early adopter of the Internet and took his son to internet cafes, and evenings were spent playing video games on his Sega Megadrive before he discovered how to make digital art on Microsoft. Word 15 years ago.

In 2017, Osinachi was working as an academic librarian at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, when a Google alert informed him of the crypto art scene – an art category related to the Ethereum blockchain – where tokens not fungible (NFT) are used as a type of digital asset to record unique ownership of goods such as pictures, videos, music and other collectibles.

Non-fungible items can include paintings, song files, or even tweets, like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s very first post. These things are not interchangeable with other items as they have unique properties and no two units are the same. The growing popularity of NFTs has intrigued many, but it has opened the door for African artists and creators to sell their content to a global audience.

In March, Osinachi sold artwork for $ 75,000 from NFT in 10 days, before selling Become Sochukwuma – a painting of a black dancer wrapped in a swirling tutu on a computer screen – for $ 80,000 on the crypto-art market in April.

“Digital art has its place on the same shelf as traditional art,” said Osinachi African affairs. “Collectors make huge returns on their investments. [Traders are] buying digital coins for $ 1,000 and selling them for $ 20,000 in a short period of time, so I would say buying with NFTs is like buying traditional coins – it’s just the way you storing and viewing them is different. “

NFT collectors can display their digital collections in online NFT marketplaces like SuperRare or Showtime, allowing viewers to like or comment on individual pieces. Collectors display their digital artwork files – jpegs, gifs, MP4 or 3D digital models – on virtual reality platforms online or at home on HD displays specially designed to showcase digital art.

Become Sochukwuma by Osinachi. (Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Daria Borisova)

Art galleries, auction houses and art exhibitions are following suit. In November, during the sixth edition of Art X Lagos – West Africa’s largest art fair – digital art was auctioned online in partnership with SuperRare, while art lovers visited some 30 physical galleries in Africa and of the diaspora.

“Each piece in the NFT exhibit sold for no less than one Ether, or around $ 4,500 or $ 4,600,” said Osinachi, who organized the exhibit.

The value of a TVN can be set by the artist or auctioned. NFTs can be bought or sold using virtual wallets that exchange Ether cryptocurrency, which can be exchanged for fiat currencies like the US dollar and withdrawn for cash.

“It wasn’t a walk in the park,” says Tokini Peterside, founder of Art X Lagos. “Whenever there is a significant change in an industry, there is always a certain setback and we know that some collectors fear that NFTs have a negative impact on their traditional collections.

“For this reason, we have included in our Art X Talks program a special conversation about NFTs, to help demystify NFTs and reframe the debate about the meaning, intention and creative motivation that is at the heart of this revolution. “

Digital artists are the new rock stars

The global NFT market has had an exciting year to date, with trade reaching $ 10.7 billion in the third quarter of 2021.

Mike Winkelmann, the American digital artist who calls himself Beeple, has sold his Daily: the first 5,000 days for $ 69.3 million in March at Christies in New York. It was a digital collage of every work he had created daily since May 1, 2007 and was created – the process of turning a digital file into NFT on the Ethereum blockchain – at Christies, making Beeple the world’s most profitable digital artist. world.

For Niyi Okeowo, a multidisciplinary Nigerian creator – who goes by HelloMrColor – artists entering the scene hoping for overnight success will likely be disappointed and should instead focus on building a story around their work.

Okeowo’s afro-futuristic art combines photography, 3D and graphics, and his piece Indigo Child – inspired by the new-age concept of indigo children born with supernatural abilities and powers – sold on the SuperRare Marketplace in November for 1.2 Ether ($ 5,387).

“Digital artists are becoming the new rockstars,” Okeowo says. “The most prosperous people are able to adopt new technologies and human beings were made to adapt. But I think the attitude of the older generation of Nigerians towards digital art needs to change. They shouldn’t be upset that the younger generation is taking advantage of technology.

In June, the Nigerian government banned Twitter after the American social media company deleted a controversial post from President Buhari, cutting off an important channel for engaging with potential collectors and marketing their art. In February, a directive from the Central Bank of Nigeria called on commercial banks to stop facilitating cryptocurrency transactions, creating additional angst for digital artists.

Man in a Pool II by Osinachi.
Man in a swimming pool II by Osinachi. (Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Daria Borisova)

When an artist sells a work on the blockchain, they sign a smart contract, a self-executing agreement between buyer and seller written directly in lines of code, which guarantees royalties – often between 10% and 30% – on all future sales, which has provided some degree of financial security as the scene generalizes.

Yet the ever-increasing “gasoline fees” – the term given to the fees that most NFT trading platforms charge for minting their NFTs through the Ethereum blockchain – are prohibitive for many emerging artists in Africa, Peterside explains. Art X Lagos covered the costs associated with minting the NFTs at the November auction, although the embarkation process around the mint must change so more African artists can ride the NFT wave.

“I can afford to pay gasoline costs of, say, $ 200. But the new artists entering the space cannot afford to do this. They haven’t set a $ 100 workflow yet, so they can’t afford to pay such huge gasoline costs, but over time Ethereum’s network upgrades will deliver faster speeds. high and lower gasoline costs, and art fairs like Art X will play their part, ”says Osinachi.

Environmental impact

With the rise of the digital art market, a laser focus is on the environmental impact of NFTs.

the Proof of Work (PoW) The security model that Ethereum operates on requires significant computing power, graphics cards, and electricity. The ecological cost of a single Ethereum transaction is estimated at an average footprint of around 35 kWh, roughly the equivalent of the electricity consumption of an EU resident for four days, Jason said. Bailey, founder of Artnome – an analytical database of the world’s greatest artists. .

Bailey analyzed 18,000 NFTs of crypto art and found that on average a single edition of NFT on the blockchain used 340 kWh, which is the equivalent of driving a gasoline car 1,000 km or boiling a kettle 4,500 times. .

Ethereum developers have plans to switch to the Proof of Stake (PoS) alternative security model, via a plan called Ethereum 2.0 that will require much less energy for artists and collectors looking for a more eco-friendly alternative. ‘environment. One current strategy is to try to offset part of the carbon cost of issuing NFTs by purchasing carbon credits.

Planning ahead now before the market takes shape will help lay the foundation for more sustainable NFT, says Bailey.

“Humans are social creatures and we love to collect things and express ourselves through these collections, and it’s a chance to rethink what a more inclusive art world might look like.”

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