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The NFTs, a revolution for African Artists

Dernière mise à jour : 23 sept. 2021

This year 2021 is witnessing a phenomenal breakthrough of NFTs (Non Fungible Token) in the Art world.

Recently, one of American artist Beeple's digital artworks made headlines with a multi-million dollar auction by Christie's in partnership with the Makersplace platform.

Osinachi, the most highly rated Nigerian artist, took part in the flagship sale "The Pioneers of NFT Art" by the auction house Bonhams with Super Rare, while Ghanaian Ahmed Partey is one of the world's leading digital artists with sales in the five figures.

Christie's as well as Sotheby's have since launched other operations as mediatic as each other by auctioning "jewels" of the very recent "history" of NFT (as CryptoPunks). They reveal the importance of what is happening in front of our eyes regarding what is called "crypto art".

Indeed, if these major players in the art world are positioning themselves, it is because a whole ecosystem, less media but very active on social networks and in new dedicated sales platforms with or without curation, is being built at high speed to the great delight of many artists connected around the world.

When we know that Nigeria is the 3rd country in the world of cryptocurrency exchange behind the United States and Russia (Statista study on the year 2020), we perceive all the potential of a real artistic revolution in which Africa has the opportunity to shine.

Let's talk NFT for non-initiated

NFTs are "crypto assets" because they rely on crypto-currency. The digital files (Jpg, mp4, etc.) are recorded as it in a large secure digital "ledger": the blockchain.

Monnaies virtuelles Bitcoin Ethereum Tezos Cardano

Virtual currencies have been popularized by the speculative ups and downs of the most famous of them, Bitcoin, but they also come in a series of other "coins" with much more useful features (Ethereum, Tezos, Cardano...), notably for creating digital art.

Today held by more than 100 million individuals and institutions in the world (at the time of writing this article, less than 60 million at the beginning of the year), crypto-currencies are a safe haven in the period of crisis that we know and therefore a source of investment in NFTs.

NFTs do not only concern art: they now allow to create and own a rare or even unique digital object.

For example, the NBA (American basketball league) sells video excerpts of its games in the form of NFT. And with Sorare, soccer clubs sell licenses to market NFT cards of their team players to be used in this virtual game.

In fact, with NFTs, any creative can, thanks to the smart-contracts of the blockchain, "register" one of his creations, guaranteeing its authenticity, uniqueness and inviolability.

NFTs are therefore digital assets that, unlike cryptocurrencies, are totally unique and not interchangeable with any other asset.

Without being exhaustive, this ranges from virtual land parcels in multi-user platforms to programmable Art to ownership records for physical assets.

Because they are unique and impossible to replicate, NFTs bridge the gap between virtual and physical economies. A huge market of digital assets can be collected and traded.

This undeniable revolution in digital property is no longer limited to owning a copy of the code, the original file, but is both a real growth market and an incredible source of renewal for the art world.

Why crypto artists from Africa are the future of the creative economy on the continent.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had strong economic impacts on artists around the world. The cancellation of Biennials, fairs and exhibitions, and the difficulties in shipping artworks have all been difficult physical obstacles to overcome, causing severe consequences.

This is all the more true since, in most African countries, the majority of the financing of culture and contemporary art in particular depends on the outside world, either through international cooperation organizations established in the country or through tourism, or through international fairs, the most prestigious of which are in Europe, North America and Asia.

If artists from Africa are already making waves on the digital NFT market by sharing an Art that is today very popular, if they create a strong community and finally earn income from their passion, it is because collectors from all over the world finally have direct access to their creations!

Of course, registering a work in the blockchain requires some technical skills. This is a real challenge for the "traditional" artists who would like to take the plunge.

For those of the younger generation, they often already have a good grasp of digital technology, even if they are developing a classical practice in painting, sculpture, street art…

AfroDroid by Owo Anietie
AfroDroid 8972

Let's mention for example the Nigerian Owo Anietie: he started a "classic" artistic career in 2009 and it's only in 2012 that he trained in motion design, animation and 3D before investing himself in digital creation as NFT this year. Since then, he initiated Africa's first Generative project of “collectible” (collection of digital characters) which has just sold out its 12,117 AfroDroids in a few minutes on September 1st after a successful presale.

Creating an NFT also has a cost not to be neglected: it varies from about ten dollars. And it requires computer equipment (at least a smartphone) and a stable Internet connection.

But these obstacles are out of all proportion to the technical and financial ones of the current contemporary art world, which structure the market for the exclusive benefit of Western artists, gallery owners and art dealers.

The routing of physical works is very expensive and delicate from the Continent. It is also very energy-consuming: not at all comparable to the environmental impact, sometimes decried, of the digital recording of digital works on the blockchain.

From a financial point of view, for an African artist, "monetizing" his social networks, which do not pay him for his creations, no matter what their audience is, is far from simple today: to mention only Instagram, its Shopping option does not work in many African countries, especially in the French-speaking sphere.

This distortion of competition is valid for professionals who would like to access the sale of art online even if some solutions exist.

For example, if Stripe is one of the most used payment system in the world including by Artsy, the #1 marketplace for online art sales, its service is not available in Africa not to mention the difficulties of accessing the local banking system as an Artist.

The result is distressing despite the incredible creative energy of the Continent which inspires the biggest stars (for exemple Beyonce in “Black is king” with the designers Loza Maléombho, La Falaise Dionn, Sarah Diouf...).

If initiatives have emerged in recent years - let's mention the specialized Art Fair 1-54 in Casablanca, London and New York, the AKAA in Paris and the presence of a few African galleries outside of the Continent -, Contemporary Art from Africa represents less than 1% of the 50 billion dollars of the world market, as Ciku Kimeira pointed out last May in Quartz Africa.

Through their deeply rooted artistic practices, African crypto-artists can therefore promote the cultures of an entire Continent on the blockchain and immortalize their cultural influence on the crypto-art movement.

Beyond that, NFTs provide a unique opportunity for African artists to find their rightful place in the art world at large.

The global success of the NFTs of Yatreda, an Ethiopian family of artists, on the platform illustrates our point.

By revisiting the prestigious lineages of queens and kings of the kingdom of Abyssinia in slow motion video, Yatreda has done much more than the cover of Vogue Italia: in a few months, the collective has promoted Ethiopian culture in both the "moral" and financial sense of the term, generating more than a hundred thousand dollars to date.

Better still, Yatreda's success story is inspiring other artists to engage in new narratives stripped of the neo-colonial grip still firmly anchored in traditional art.

Why crypto artists from Africa are contributing to the decolonization of the art market by building generational wealth.

Digital art, thanks to the NFT, allows the artists of the Continent to access a world market without Western intermediaries.

This statement applies today both to the economic dependence maintained between Western countries and their former colonies and to the creation itself influenced by marketing trends created from nothing in Europe or America.

Thanks to a creation liberated by crypto-art (in addition to a possible monetary liberation for the CFA zone tied to the euro), it is possible to go beyond the Western constructions of a so-called "African contemporary art" that misses the multiplicity of cultures present from the North to the South of the Continent.

Because no, the Art in Africa is not summarized in a type of Art selected on criteria and tastes related to a certain aesthetic to the detriment of other expressions, artistic creations often neglected.

Simon Njami, one of the founders of the late Revue Noire, deplored last May in the French daily Le Monde that "we are now in niche stories in which we precisely did not want to be".

The journalist and director Liz Gomis of the new magazine Off To said it straight: "we have to stop marketing ourselves as exotic fruits, making hay about wax and sapeurs. What defines us is much more than that!"

In the crypto-art which mixes digital painting, video, 3D..., the afro futurism is one of the movements strongly claimed by the African community of the NFT.

But, beyond a legitimate and assumed identity claim, the Artist's vocation is to create Art with a capital A and without any adjective reducing him to his origin or his skin color.

In this regard, the artistic trajectory of the Senegalese Linda Dounia is enlightening. Beside NFT works marked by obvious cultural references, she also develops, with talent, generative art (coded by computer) which, if it is necessarily inspired by its own history, cannot be immediately "classified" in a fixed and reducing category.

The decolonization of Art implemented by the crypto-artists also passes by the smart contracts, legal supports of creation in the universe of the NFT. They allow artists to profit from their artworks long after they have been sold the first time: resale rights are registered in the blockchain for the benefit of the Artist.

This is a revolution in the very idea of ownership in the art world. This revolution ensures artists from the continent, for the first time at this scale, to build generational wealth and retain proof of their creations’ influence in NFT art space.

In reality, avenues for funding and income to afford digital art tools, softwares, time, and emotional safety to create are few and far between for artists from the continent. Today many of them aren’t able to work on large scale projects as they are still focused on making ends meet.

And if a small minority gets away with it, they are often caught up in a system of representation of their own art made by others.

Through the new creative economy of crypto-art, we can remove these barriers. And, let's face it, this revolution, built around strong communities that support each other, is also developing innovative decentralized governance organizations (called DAOs) to federate their energies into innovative art projects.

Through this ongoing revolution, it's possible to give artists the power to create as boldly and prolifically they want.

To make emerge a radically new market of the Art, a creative economy finally at the service of the African artists, is now possible!

Written in collaboration with Mo from the 1mA Collective

before Cyber Baat, an upcoming NFT event in Dakar (workshop, art talks and exhibition)

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