An NFT crash course and the future for African art
Updated: Jun 30
They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but how much is an NFT worth? But seriously, if you're like most people these days, you probably spend a lot of time on the internet and you've noticed a lot of news concerning NFT's. I've dabbled a bit as a photojournalist and learnt a few things, so I wanted to share.
NFT stands for 'non-fungible tokens' and for something to be non fungible simply means it cannot be replicated, it is a unique identifier on a blockchain. A blockchain is a medium of exchange on which cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, etc) are traded on. NFT's can be bought and sold and the Ethereum blockchain is perhaps the most popular medium for the trading of NFT's. It seems like a lot of information coming at you really fast, but bear with me.
An NFT can be any digital file - pictures, gifs, videos and even soundtracks but currently, digital art is the craze. Some people might wonder: why they would pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for something they can just screenshot? Well, just like physical art collection, anybody can own a print, but there can be only one original because it is tied to the unique identifier as previously mentioned. It is a trade in the ownership of the work, not necessarily the art itself.
Anyway, I didn't want to make this a boring lecture so let's move on to the juicy stuff. What does this technology mean for African artists? Well for one thing, it has given a lot of artists visibility that they could have not imagined. Traditionally, artists would have otherwise had to showcase their work in traditional galleries or in stores, but through NFTs, artists are exposed to a global audience through social media. On twitter for instance, artists are able to have real time conversations with their community and connect with collectors from anywhere in the world - exponential exposure.
NFTs and being a creative
A nice thing about the NFT space is that it's an open market. Artists with varying styles, disciplines and modes of expression have the opportunity to showcase their work. Those who have been creating art for decades and those who have done it for a few weeks, and those in the middle.
Jennifer Christian is a multidisciplinary digital artist based in Lagos explains how the technology has helped her reach a larger and more diverse audience. Her work ranges from fashion illustration to passion art and her audience prior to NFT's was limited, despite taking years to build.
Her fashion drawings are great but I'm a big fan of her passion art. The emotion you can sense from the subjects faces, the details in the fabric as it creases and folds, and the non-existent background which serve to amplify the passion are my favorite elements. A passionate scene where two lovers are totally engulfed in each others worlds, and nothing else matters.
"My reach prior to NFT's had taken years of building and networking" she explains, "but since joining the space a few months ago, I have made sales, had digital exhibitions and networked with art enthusiasts across the planet".
Link to the collection here.
The NFT space hasn't left traditional artists out of the digital art craze by the way. "The space between the digital and physical art market gets smaller everyday" as Lagos based creative, Jekein Lato-Unah explains.
"It's a continuous learning process for me. I'm still learning, still getting my equipment, still taking classes, so slow and steady wins the race. I never want to be boxed into being just one thing and now I am able to explore different forms of creativity".
Jekein took high definition photographs of her oil paintings as her genesis collection on the blockchain. Her art depicts form in the most ethereal manner and the detail of every brush stroke is visible in crystal quality. I particularly enjoy how the strokes seem to be leading to one focal point, like little arrows showing paths of energy flow.
You can check out her collection here.
For photographers like me, spending time and interacting with other artistic people is a plus. However my images seemed to have gained a new aura about them. The integrity of my digital files has been a priority and now I am able to market that fact. The images are as clear as the day I took them and all metadata is intact.
Metadata are bits of information that accompanies your digital file and provides additional information about the file. Metadata can include anything from GPS location of the photo to the camera it was shot on to what software was used to edit it.
Now, I'm able to sell my best images of Nigeria accompanied by time, location, camera type stamps - a digital certificate that shows true ownership of the work. I like to think that although we can't predict the future, we can position ourselves for multiple scenarios.
Link to my collection here.
NFT's and the value of community
If there's one thing that stands out in the NFT space, it's the emphasis on community. There’s an underlying message to always play it forward by supporting other artists in the space. It is not uncommon for successful NFT artists to buy the works of emerging artists - it almost seems like the beginning of a self sustaining ecosystem of art, maybe? In any case, it contrasts with the politics and classism that is present in the physical art collection scene.
Asides within the digital community, some people have found ways to spread the love to real-world scenarios. NFT funding has been responsible for quite a few stories, such as this free art school that was built in Lagos, a computer lab in Kaduna, the NYSC corper-drummer story and the Ghanaian pall bearers story are a few of the tales we hear on the regular. It's quite clear that as an artist or a collector in the NFT space, you will find it difficult to succeed without being supportive of community.
With regards collecting NFTs, it is just as exciting as it is intimidating. The barriers to entry, especially in Nigeria are a lot but there's opportunity to discover more art as well as make money through flipping. Flipping - buying NFTs at a low price and reselling at a higher price to make profit.
Want to explore the NFT market?
First, you need a crypto wallet, I recommend MetaMask. Next, there are many marketplaces for digital art but I recommend checking out OpenSea, just note that there is a one-time fee to "mint" your work. To purchase cryptocurrency, I recommend joining binance, just note that buying crypto through your Nigerian bank account can result in it getting blocked, but binance has a decent P2P (peer to peer) system. I would also advice picking one currency to transact in, so you avoid using 3rd party currency converters and avoid getting scammed - most people trade in Ethereum.
Lastly, remember that there's room in the NFT space for everybody at every level. It's not only about how skilled you are as an artist, it's about continually learning and supporting a community that will in turn, support you - art should be nurtured, encouraged and celebrated.