It is no news that the story and adoption of Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) spread rapidly throughout Africa and the globe. The cryptographic asset has brought millions to NFT owners today; It’s a lucrative business.
In case you are wondering, Non-fungible tokens are unique and non-transferable digital items that can be sold or bought through blockchain technology. The concept of NFT is mainly associated with tech-nerds or crypto traders, which is true since NFT is an underlining product brought by cryptocurrency.
Essentially, NFTs are one-of-a-kind cryptographic assets, so you’re changing ownership when it comes to buying and selling them. No two NFTs are identical, made possible by the blockchain technology that brought us cryptocurrency.
The best thing about NFTs is that you don’t need a degree, diploma or certificate to benefit from the NFTs. A prime example is NFTs in Africa. There have been numerous instances where African Artists, performers and developers have benefitted from the cryptographic assets.
The coffin Dance
Anyone on the internet has at least this video once. It involves Ghananian pallbearers dancing with a coffin on their shoulders. The video gained fame and became a meme being used everywhere.
On 9th April, the group’s leader, Benjamin Aidoo, saw this as an opportunity and converted the trendy meme into an NFT. The cryptographic asset sold 372 ETH within three days, estimated at $1.046 million.
This feat attracted a lot of attention and inspired many new African NFT owners and new crypto traders to take a step into the crypto space.
The drummer smile
Adisa Olashile, a photographer and an NFT owner, created an NFT based on a picture of an old drummer. The NFT soon went viral, attracting multiple bids and sparking more conversation surrounding the cryptographic assets.
He sold only two of the three pictures he took at 0.3ETH. As a sign of good faith, he decided on the money equally and gave the old drummer his fair share. This act of kindness was met with a lot of praise as many NFT owners and crypto traders spread the story.
The above two counts show that NFT is profitable to anyone with a creative mind and a unique outlook. These same aspects have led to African Artists shifting to NFTs to promote their brand using blockchain technology.
In late 2017, Nigeria’s foremost digital artist Osinachi started making blockchain-enabled art. “Opportunities weren’t in the traditional art space for digital artists like myself,” Osinachi explained, “because traditional artists didn’t take digital art seriously—until recently, when NFTs started.”
After discovering crypto art on his own, Osinachi joined the now-defunct platform Rare Art Lab. The team there taught him how to mint NFTs (non-fungible tokens), a process he picked up with ease. Osinachi admired the way the crypto art space gave him a sense of belonging as a digital artist, something that the traditional art space lacked.
Yet Osinachi never believed that crypto art would become a phenomenon. “I saw it as something similar to Instagram, only that there is a possibility of making a few cents from it,” he said during a recent Zoom call.
The global rise of NFTs has been massive, but in Africa, the ascent has been meteoric, especially in countries with burgeoning art ecosystems. Like much of the broader art world, NFTs penetrated Africa in early 2021, after Beeple’s $69.3 million sale at Christie’s in New York. In response, artists working in African cities, from established painters to emerging digital artists, gravitated towards NFTs to sell their work, tell new stories, and celebrate African excellence.
African artist Fhatuwani Mukheli stated that NFT did not limit or devalue an artist’s work; on the contrary, it presented a great opportunity.
Because of the constantly evolving world, people have had to adapt and evolve throughout the centuries. The same is said today—NFTs and artists mainly bank on one critical component; uniqueness. The prospect of creativity and is one of a kind is the bread and butter of any African artist, and NFT has presented such a platform.
African artists have made their mark through cryptographic assets via media such as Opensea, Foundation, Super Rare, Mintable, and Wax.
Many African artists have formed forums and communities such as Africa NFT Community, Black NFT Art, Kenyan NFT Club, and Nigeria NFT Community. Whose primary goal is to represent Africa in various networks built on blockchain technology. They also aim to spread their artwork and share their ideas through cryptographic assets.
Anna Ogutogullari, the founder of QkweQkwe.io, supports having a virtual marketplace where African artists can access a global audience. In support of NFTs in Africa, her newly founded company incorporated the purchase of NFT-based art during the launch of their group show Multiplixation.
Anna even commented during an interview, “If you look at African artists today, their NFT market value alone is worth $15 billion.
At the moment, there are few African layers in the world of digital art, so by encouraging and giving African artists a chance to showcase their talent, we will ring about the change that we want to see in the future African art market. Where Africans support Africans.”
“I’m clueless but excited,” says Koos Groenewald, one half of Jana + Koos, an art and design duo who participated in online art fair Latitudes’ first NFT offering late last year. “It’s like an internal combustion engine. You don’t need to understand how internal combustion works in order to benefit from it.”
Latitudes, which originally began as a successful, physical art fair aimed at promoting a platform where artists, galleries and independents could come together on an equal playing field, has faced challenges common to many in the art space
since 2019. With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the physical art world was disrupted. Like many in the industry, Latitudes made the move online.
“We launched [Latitudes] in July 2020 with around 350 artists. Now we are closer to 900 and growing nicely and quickly – we’re basically a third party marketplace with galleries, artists, curators… as long
as you have good art to sell you can bring it on to the platform,” says Roberta Coci, the co-founder who partnered with South African NFT experts and social marketplace Momint for the implementation of their first NFT-based art offering.
Anna Ogutogullari, founder of the newly-launched QkweQkwe.io, agrees with this optimistic outlook; a virtual marketplace where African artists can sell to a global audience, allowing the purchase of NFT- based art for the first time with the launch of their group show Multiplixation earlier this year. Unlike Latitudes, which was forced to adapt to the shifts in market during the Covid-19 pandemic, QkweQkwe is of the belief that NFTs provide a unique opportunity to decentralize control of the contemporary art world, but both platforms agree on the benefits to artists themselves.
“If you look at the contemporary African art market, you’re looking at about $15 billion,” says Ogutogullari. “It’s very interesting because there’s a lot of interest into the NFTs and digital space, but there’s not at the moment a lot of African players… If you look at what’s happened in Sotheby’s, in the last auction where the majority of the work was actually African, and that is the type of change that we want to see in the future African art market, where Africans are supporting Africans.”
Artists from QkweQkwe’s stable are similarly excited about the possibilities of both African representation, and continued royalties, but acknowledge the risks with entering such a new field with their work.
“I don’t have too many high expectations,” says Zamani Ngubane, a participating artist whose work focuses on local portraiture. “That’s how I always approach new ventures – but I’m here to learn and open my mind to the world of NFTs.”
However, it’s worth noting that there are many proponent skeptics of the value of NFTs to the art world, and this criticism rests on concerns regarding historical and current issues of money laundering through art, as well as the abundance of scams already being run through the NFT space.
In the simplest terms, an NFT is a representation of something unique – and in the case of NFT- linked digital artworks, the NFT is a way to indicate ownership, sale, proof of transaction history, all of which can be independently verified, but it isn’t the artwork itself.
Whether the artwork is the animated cartoon cat flying through space leaving a rainbow trail, or an ape in pastel colors with a gold chain and a peak cap – most NFT art exists off the blockchain, simply termed “off chain”.
For example, if you purchase an NFT, the proof of your ownership is largely secure from corruption and permanent, unless you decide to sell the NFT.
Here’s a metaphor.
You buy a painting which is kept in an art gallery, and the gallery updates its unchangeable ownership book listing your name as the owner – that’s the smart contract part of the NFT. Anyone can walk into the gallery and take a photograph of the painting, but it’s ownership is irrefutably yours, and anyone can check the gallery’s ledger to prove this.
What happens when the gallery burns down?
Off-chain NFT artworks are not stored on the blockchain, but usually on centralized servers with the company listing them for sale (such as the servers of the NFT marketplace OpenSea), or a slightly more secure decentralized protocol called InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), which functions similarly to torrent files. The NFT points to an address on either the company servers or IPFS which contains the artwork itself, the actual file, and if the company goes out of business you may find that your NFT points you to owning nothing at all.
“So @CheckMyNFT has been tracking NFTs created on Nifty, and apparently most of them are already broken,” tweeted @JontyWareing, referencing the fact that many artworks hosted on the Nifty marketplace have disappeared due to failures in their hosting.
There are attempts to neutralize these risks in NFT artworks, with on-chain solutions in the works. Innovative developers have also provided opensource checks which allow you to view how your digital assets are stored. However, it doesn’t seem that most artists or marketplaces are concerned with the permanence of the works purchased, or how they are stored.
With the rise of cryptocurrency in Africa, cryptographic asset contains stiff competition. Today alone, there are still various bottlenecks that African artists and traders face. Anti-crypto policies, shortage of collectors and gas fees are some issues plaguing NFT progress.
Various projects, shows and ventures are currently being scheduled, planned and developed in Africa. This will greatly promote awareness and usher in the new age brought by crypto. Despite the various hurdles, NFT owners and artists still strive to make their mark on platforms built on blockchain technology. By projection, NFTs will indeed pay off in the long run and promote African artists to heights they are yet to experience.