For years, we have had a definitive view of African art; it is supposed to look this way, it is supposed to feel this way. But with NFT for African artists, as well as all over the world, having a shot at taking the international market through NFTs, they can simply focus on the art itself, irrespective of whether it represents Africa or not…
By David Adewusi
On the 9th of January, 2022, Taofeek Sheik Ibrahim, a Nigerian photographer, received a mail that would change his life, and the course of NFTs in Nigeria. His digitised photo, The African Telepathy had sold for 1.10 Ethereum, a total of over $3,000, opening wider the trail for NFT artists in Africa to thrive.
I'm super glad for selling my first NFT "The African Telepathy" on @withFND, from a bid to a counter-bid which makes @__kementari__ the highest bidder for 1.10ETH.https://t.co/sAwZ3htb3E pic.twitter.com/44sPnyiuEM
— 𝐒𝐚𝐫𝐤𝐢𝐧 𝐅𝐎𝐓𝐎 📸 (@FotoNugget) January 10, 2022
NFTs first became popular in 2021 after Mike Winkelmann sold a digital art piece, Everydays: The First 5,000 Days, for $69 million. The amount was outrageous. According to many; the novel idea of paying that much for a piece of art seemed ridiculous at the time. Contrary to common belief, NFTs weren’t an invention of 2021, but one that existed in 2014. In fact, the CryptoPunks sold for more than $11 million in 2017, 3 years before the 2021 NFT craze.
Despite the evident fortune to be made in NFTs, many have loitered in the dark due to a significant dose of ignorance. The world of blockchain is a rather technical one, filled with complicated terminologies, technology, patterns, and charts. But in spite of the complicated nature of blockchain and cryptocurrency, fairly new artists — who had little to zero blockchain experience — have sold art pieces for millions of dollars.
What is NFT?
Simply, NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token. Non-Fungible in the sense that it is totally unique. Unlike cryptocurrency, NFTs cannot be replaced by anything else. Bitcoin or Ethereum are fungible tokens, which means that they are interchangeable. One bitcoin in two crypto wallets are the same value, and are made of the same components.
Owning NFTs can be likened to owning Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa portrait; however, while there exists several digitised and modified versions of this masterpiece, the original still hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, and is owned by the French Government.
Furthermore, NFTs exist in the wide world of the Ethereum blockchain. Even though this same blockchain supports the ETH coin most are familiar with, it also supports these unique tokens.
Basically, NFTs can be anything digital; it could be music, videos, paintings, drawings, an exceptionally-brilliant tweet, gifs, digitised images of sculptures, and so on. Currently, despite the other profitable niches NFTs have to offer, thousands around the world have focused on the sale and purchase of digital art.
To get started with NFTs, you will need a Metamask, Coinbase, or Rainbow account, plus a currency for transactions. After creating your NFT, you simply log into a marketplace like OpenSea, and wait for potential buyers to contact you. For instance, an artist could create a digitised version of an oil painting, list on an NFT marketplace, and make hundreds or thousands of dollars from a single sale.
Also, selling digital art gives 100% ownership to the buyer, while the seller retains the copyrights and reproduction rights to the art.
But it gets complicated; most digital art are simply pictures, which in turn means that you can download, screenshot, and share with your friends. However, like the Mona Lisa painting, having a copy of this on your phone doesn’t make you the legal owner. Anyone can have a copy of this art — or image — on their phone, but only one person can claim rights to the original.
Many have argued NFTs are a capitalistic flex by millionaires, adding that it has no real value in the sense of it. Perhaps this holds water, but NFTs are also great for supporting artists financially, which is exactly the point where African artists come in.
NFTs have attracted several billionaires in the Western world; Elon Musk, Mike Shinoda of Linkin’ Park, and many others. Unfortunately, this buying trait is still alien to African millionaires. But as expected, conversations around NFTs have filled several African crypto communities, and a few artists have made a fortune off them. For instance, Osinachi, a self-taught NFT expert, sold his NFTs for over $94,000 in 2020 on SuperRare, an NFT marketplace. Similarly, Oyindamola Oyekemi Oyewumi began with drawing with ballpoint pens, and joined the NFT community after her piece sold for $6,300. Oyindamola had drawn a picture of Charles Hoskinson with a ballpoint pen, and following an endless stream of retweets, the picture fell right under the nose of Charles Hoskinson, Ethereum co-founder.
Hoskinson, impressed by the art, converted it into an NFT, where it sold for the aforementioned $6,300. Likewise, Kenyan photographer and filmmaker, Rich Allela, also made millions selling an art collection of photographs as NFTs, a move that was facilitated and organised by Picha Images, a pioneer in the NFT universe.
Traditional art collecting is slowly dying out, with some art curators opting for digital models. In fact, the Hiscox 5th Annual Art Trade reports that Instagram has become a preferred platform for art buyers and curators to notice new art. If this trend continues, it is only a matter of time before African artists — who have based their earnings and life off this traditional model — are forced to close shop. Similarly, African art — despite its recent popularity in international art scenes — still amounts to only 1% of the global art market.
Fortunately, NFT is the digital way out.
First and foremost, NFTs will offer African artists an opportunity to break into the international art market, a move which will in turn translate to higher earnings. Art collection in African countries is slow for the most part, and artists still have to sell at prices as low as $50-$70.
Furthermore, NFTs help artists retain the copyrights to their creative pieces, a factor which isn’t particularly talked about in the African art scene. Interestingly, retaining rights to your NFT means that for every time it is sold to somebody else, you earn a certain percentage. This suggests that just one NFT sale could feed and clothe an artist for a lifetime.
Additionally, NFTs could finally give African artists the much-deserved break they have always craved: creative freedom. For years, we have had a definitive view of African art; it is supposed to look this way, it is supposed to feel this way. But with artists having a shot at taking the international market through NFTs, they can simply focus on the art itself, irrespective of whether it represents Africa or not. Also, this would allow the creation of extreme, unconventional works from African artists, broadening an already-rich African culture.
Conclusively, NFTs are changing the game of art around the world, and this remains the best time for African artists to join the community.
Cover image source: https://coindesk.com
David Adewusi has appeared on Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine, African Writer, and Naked Convos. Currently living in Ibadan and being forced to study in a Nigerian institution, his biggest dream is to be left alone.