Indian digital artists explore the latest craze: Cryptoart

A non-fungible token proves the authenticity of a digital work using blockchain technology, making it a leading product in the market

A JPEG file went under the hammer at Christie’s on March 11 and was sold for $69.3 million (about ₹504 crore), which was paid for in cryptocurrency. The world – including the artwork’s creator, digital artist Beeple – watched in disbelief. Daily: first 5,000 days, a collage of 5,000 images created over 13 years, was the first-ever non-fungible token (NFT) to be sold by the auction house. In another first, Christie’s accepted payment in Ether (ETH), the native cryptocurrency of Ethereum, one of the most popular blockchain networks. The deal shone a spotlight on cryptoart, an area Indian artists have also explored.

First, let’s get our basics straight. What is an NFT? It is a unique token attached to a digital artwork that proves the authenticity of the artwork. It gives ownership to the buyer, who obtains the right to exchange the part. Tokens are “minted” or generated on the blockchain, making their original ownership and creator clear and traceable. To mint an NFT, you must pay a gas fee, a payment for the computational energy used in Ethereum transactions. This exclusivity, traceability and authenticity make NFT works of art rare and therefore valuable. Artists can sell these works on exclusive platforms such as NiftyGateway, OpenSea, SuperRare, Foundation; other marketplaces like Rarible are open to everyone. In 2020, the NFT market grew by 299% to reach a total value of over $250 million according to the NFT Report 2020, published by L’Atelier BNP Paribas and Nonfungible.com.

In February 2021, Delhi-based animator and art director Amrit Pal Singh sold two plays on Foundation for 15 ETH (about ₹18 lakh). They were renditions of toy faces from Daft Punk, the French electronic music duo who recently split up. It’s part of a whole series of toy faces – Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh, Sherlock Holmes, Malala Yousafzai – that he’s sold, and he’s now working on more. Over a nine-year career, Singh launched mobile apps, a merchandise store, card games and a directory platform, but nothing succeeded like NFTs in the face of toys. “Of course, NFTs are all the rage today, but it’s not as easy as they claim. You need to be aware of the collecting community, you need recognition,” he says. benefited from his active social media presence and awareness of his work with his clients.”As a digital artist, my source of income was from client work, commissions from different companies like Samsung, Google, Snapchat. My first bidders were some of my clients,” he adds.

Empower artists

Siraj Hassan, based in Chennai, has sold 27 works by his In cage series – miniature trees, human figures enclosed in glass bells. Created during lockdown, these pieces reflect isolation and mental health. “NFTs allow digital artists to sell their work as a product rather than a service, so you can offer a better price. They help you build your social influence, which again helps you financially. They also allow an artist to earn royalties on their art each time a work is sold,” he says.

A work from Siraj Hassan's 'Caged' series.

Adhiraj Singh, a Delhi-based 3D artist who owns a sustainable digital fashion brand, LOTA Design, has also made a foray into the world of NFTs. He is set to auction works including a “selfie” of a digital model and influencer. “The “selfie” is one of a kind and will cost between one and two ETH. From my own practice, I am auctioning off some of my favorite pieces, including a piece of jewelry I designed for Roma Narsinghani as part of Helsinki Fashion Week 2020,” he says.

'Ouc' the jewel of Adhiraj Singh.

Munich-based Khyati Trehan, a senior designer at global design firm Ideo and a freelance artist, sold five works on Foundation for prices ranging from 0.8 ETH to 2.8601 ETH. She explains how NFT has empowered digital artists: “The promise of the metaverse is that it allows artists to take control of the value of their work within a version of the internet that is collectively owned and operated and independent of the control of the company. Art in the form of NFTs unlocks the creative potential to monetize the virality of a digital work, which currently only exists in the metrics of likes, shares and views. ”

Ecological hazards

Artist duo Thukral and Tagra, who work with a wide range of media including interactive games and videos, are currently researching this medium. They are faced with questions and doubts. “The rise of digital currency and its effects are not hidden from anyone. It’s actually breathtaking,” they say. Crypto mining, the process of creating cryptocurrency, involves a network of machines that release CO2, placing it at the heart of the ecological debate. According to Digiconomist, a platform that reflects on digital trends from an economic perspective, bitcoin mining generates 38 million tonnes of CO2 per year, which is comparable to Ireland’s carbon footprint. On March 10, online art platform ArtStation had to undo its NFT (timed online sales) drops after drawing ire from social media users over the ecological impact of cryptoart.

An NFT from LOTA's 2021 campaign.

Trehan, however, awaits fuller reports. “Mining economics is complex, and for every article dissecting the unsustainability of blockchain, there is an article that calls it ‘grossly miscalculated.’ NFTs are taking all the heat from crypto mining these days. time and many people have formed polarized perspectives on its carbon footprint.I look forward to a more comprehensive, peer-reviewed study on this topic in the near future.

The writer is a journalist who is interested in art and culture.

Marilyn M. Davis