The African artists embracing the world of NFTs

·3-min read
For its latest edition, the Art X fair in Lagos focuses on the move that many of the continent's artists are making towards crypto-art.

The Art X fair in Lagos has been showcasing the African contemporary art scene for six years. For its latest edition, the event is focusing on the move that many of the continent's artists are making towards crypto-art -- a phenomenon that could bolster their place in the art market.

The organizers of Art X have partnered with the SuperRare platform to show how African artists are embracing NFTs through the virtual exhibition "Reload..." Osinachi is one of the featured artists. This Nigerian artist is best known for his artworks created with Microsoft Word, which sell for tens of thousands of dollars online. Five of them even sold for $175,000 during Christie's last "Post War and Contemporary Art" online sale.

In the "Reload..." exhibition, Osinachi presents "The Future is Female," an NFT work that explores the place of African women in the digital revolution. And women are a theme in the work of the Senegalese artist Linda Dounia Rebeiz -- more particularly, in her latest NFT, "My Body Remembers," referencing the toxic relationship she once had with her body. "I attempted to capture a piece of my freedom. The result is a loop of animated pixels simulating my physical embodiment, its capacity for remembrance, and the complexity of unlearning violence," Linda Dounia Rebeiz explains on SuperRare.

A springboard to help artists break through?

Crypto-artists from across Africa and its diaspora, such as Rendani Nemakhavhani and Idris Veitch, are also featured in the exhibition. According to Art X, the event hopes to "provide a glimpse into the future of art-making and collection in Africa, while highlighting the enormous potential of NFTs in its creative ecosystems."

Indeed, many artists and collectors are convinced of this potential, viewing NFTs as a springboard to breaking into the art market. "[This is] one of the few moments when Africa as a continent is starting off on an almost level playing field to the West," Kenyan photographer and filmmaker Rich Allela told Quartz. "The opportunities are open to anyone with a good internet connection and a willingness to learn."

But things aren't necessarily that simple. A recent report by Art Tactic, quoted in The Art Newspaper, reveals that the NFT market benefits mainly American, British and Canadian artists. They alone account for 73% of NFT sales on the specialist platform Nifty Gateway over the last 21 months. Their counterparts from Africa and Latin America represent only 3.6% of the transactions analyzed.

Embracing cryptocurrencies

Apart from this glaring lack of diversity, the NFT boom also raises questions about the attitude of African governments towards cryptocurrencies. The Nigerian Central Bank attempted to ban all transactions with these virtual currencies in February, claiming that they posed a threat to the country's financial system. Since then, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has announced the launch of a new digital currency, the eNaira, to capitalize on his fellow citizens' infatuation with cryptocurrencies. It's worth noting that 42% of Nigerians surveyed by Statista said they own or have already used cryptocurrencies this year.

And the West African giant isn't alone. The entire African cryptocurrency market grew by more than 1,200% last year, according to Chainalysis Insights . Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania all feature in the top 20 countries on the blockchain data platform's virtual currency adoption index. With all this in mind, African crypto-artists are confident that NFTs can help them shift the boundaries of the art world .

Caroline Drzewinski

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