African artists seduced by NFTs 2022

African artists seduced by NFTs: The non-tradable token market powered by virtual work is a good way to gain fame. However, the very energy-intensive process is not without problems.

A doorless showcase in a busy artery in Tunisia. Behind the porthole, a digital work is displayed on a screen. Here is Mono, the first gallery in Africa devoted to fully immutable tokens (NFTs), these digital certificates of ownership registered on the blockchain and powered by cryptocurrencies that have hysterized the art market for a year and a half. “Passers are hypnotized, wondering what this UFO is in the middle of the medina,” smiles Kenza Zouari, co-founder of the venue with Shiran Ben Abderrazak.

A year ago, the public was unaware of this technology, known only to digital art fans. Everything changed on March 11, 2021, when a work by Beeple, a completely obscure American artist, received a miraculous prize of $69.3 million (€58.2 million at the time) at Christie’s. Therefore, many artists, including from Africa, rush to the rift. In October 2021, Nigerian crypto artist Osinachi sold five NFTs inspired by the swimming pools of British artist David Hockney at Christie’s for $214,000. The 30-year-old is convinced that “this is the only way to attach value to our work by attaching a certificate of authenticity”.

African artists seduced by NFTs

And sometimes it’s the only way to introduce yourself. In fact, nothing is harder than pushing the doors of the traditional art world, which has not always welcomed black artists. “On platforms, we look less at skin color and less at the origin of artists,” says Franco-Senegalese photographer Delphine Diallo.

NFTs provide autonomy and security

But the young New York resident hesitated when in November 2021, the Quantum platform contacted her to sell NFT 100 footage from the photography series “Divine.” “But in an hour and a half I sold 100 works for $100,000, it was surreal,” he says, still baffled by the performance. Since then, Delphine Diallo has never stopped persuading her African colleagues to jump on the bandwagon. “Why give 50% to a gallery and wait a month or two to get paid? , she asks. NFTs provide autonomy and security. »

Her colleague Linda Dounia Rebeiz, 27, also claims that NFTs have changed her life: “When I discovered this technology a year and a half ago, I thought it was the best way to start my career as an artist. I no longer just live with my work, but the reputation he has built online, the collaboration he has. opened the doors of the Dakar and Abidjan-based Cécile Fakhoury gallery, where it was launched. “I have the impression that I have a lot more respect for being an NFT artist,” adds Delphine Diallo.

Despite everything, it is not so easy to exist in the digital jungle. “It’s not easy to build a community and stay in the game because things change so fast,” says Muhcine Ennou, Moroccan designer and art director based in Amsterdam. For Linda Dounia Rebeiz, salvation comes from the collective: “We must work together, pool resources to have more power and visibility as a group. Thus, the young woman created Cyber ​​Baat, a collective of artists of African descent who came together in an autonomous organization decentralized on the blockchain.

Challenges in Africa Hit NFT Artists

African artists seduced by NFTs

But there are also more tangible hurdles to overcome, starting with low-quality Internet connections aggravated by the frequent power cuts in Africa. NFTs also have no environmental consequences. The ecological cost of a single Ethereum transaction (the reference digital currency for these tokens) is thus equivalent to four days of electricity consumption by a European. To offset the carbon footprint of these energy-intensive tokens, South African platform The Tree offers artists to collaborate with Greenpop, a Cape Town organization to plant trees.

Another pitfall is the policies of the African government regarding cryptocurrency, including the countries most experienced in digital assets. Despite Nigerians’ appetite for digital assets, the country’s central bank has been waging war on cryptocurrencies for several months. “It makes it difficult to convert my income into local currency,” complains Osinachi. The purchase of cryptocurrencies is not prohibited in Tunisia. “However, we do not have the right to officially hold the euro or the dollar, which are the only currencies that can be converted to crypto,” admits Kenza Zouari. Despite these challenges and marketing yo-yos, he’s sure of this: the NFT bustle isn’t about to stop.

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