African digital artists push NFTs to the fore at Art X Lagos fair

Since its debut in 2016, ART X Lagos has been shining a light on the African art scene. After canceling its 2020 edition, West Africa’s most important international art fair returned in November in a hybrid form with physical and digital events. And this year, the show gave center stage to a recent phenomenon called NFTs.

Nigeria’s largest contemporary art fair showcased digital works of crypto art for the first time. The show held a special NFT sale in collaboration with NFT marketplace SuperRare, based on the Ethereum blockchain.

The sale included artwork by one of Africa’s hottest crypto artists, Osinachi. In March 2021, the Nigerian visual artist became the first-ever African digital creator to auction NFTs at Christie’s Europe. His NFT series sold for over $75,000 in about ten days. Later in October, he exhibited his work at the world’s leading African art fair, London 1-54.

But the virtual exhibition “Reloading” also gave space to various art creators from all over Africa and its diaspora. And from Morocco to Rwanda, many responded to the call.

Jamaican artist Idris Veitch has launched his first NFT “Empress I”, drawing inspiration from his Nigerian heritage and Japanese ukiyo-e painting. Other artists have explored social commentary, including Osinachi. In “The Future is Female”, the Nigerian artist questions the place of African women in digital art. Showcasing their work in Lagos, South African Reda Nemakhavhani and Senegalese Linda Dounia proved that female artists have more than a say in this conversation.

But beyond the sale, the organizers of the show have tried to engage in a deeper reflection on crypto art and its meaning for African artists. Both a creative engine and a means of empowering artists, NFTs have the potential to boost the art market in Africa. It’s no wonder the show also highlighted the need to “demystify NFTs.”

Indeed, non-fungible tokens have recently fueled heated discussions. These fully virtual assets are unique avatars or projects from blockchain technology. NFTs can then be exchanged with a cryptocurrency, whether it is Ethereum or Solana. Some see them as an economic bubble, while others call NFTs a revolution. And cryptocurrency is no less controversial.

In Africa in particular, crypto-trading is a hot issue. In Nigeria, for example, the Central Bank has banned the crypto exchange. President Muhammadu Buhari then introduced the world’s first digital currency. Unlike decentralized currencies such as Bitcoin, however, eNaira is a simple digital version of the physical Naira.

Despite government disapproval, enthusiasm for cryptocurrency may continue to soar in Nigeria and beyond. Between July 2020 and June 2021, the crypto market grew by more than 1,200% in Africa. And the NFT wave is also sweeping across the continent.

With a focus on NFTs, the ART X Lagos Fair is committed to staying on top of current art trends. Indeed, the rise of the metaverse has greatly transformed the art scene. Global building platforms such as Decentraland first held digital-only NFT auctions and expos. The great digital artists have also entered a new era. In March this year, crypto artist Beeple broke all records with an NFT sale of $69 million. However, the NFT craze did not stop at the art market.

Many industries have also joined the crypto conversation. Some fashion designers have mixed NFTs into their physical collections, such as sneaker brand RTFKT Studio. Others have partnered with online games. Burberry was the first luxury brand to design NFT sketches for Blankos Block Party. Louis Vuitton even launched its own mobile game, rewarding players with up to 30 NFTs. And the gaming industry wasn’t late to the party either.

2021 has seen the rise of play-to-earn games, where players earn NFTs which they can then trade. Cryptocurrencies have also taken the traditional online gaming world by storm. Crypto casinos have blossomed, while many online casinos have started to accept digital currencies. Players can now play their favorite games using Bitcoin or Ethereum, such as Pragmatic Play’s exciting slots. From mythology-themed slots to colorful scratch cards, this award-winning studio has a collection of fun games for everyone. Pragmatic Play offers innovative features and stunning graphics. But players can also choose to have fun without spending a penny with some free online slot machines.

The NFT ecosystem is therefore getting stronger. And this new digital avenue means new opportunities for visionary artists to flourish, including in Africa. ART X Lagos has made this statement loud and clear.

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