By Sam Ancer
What are NFTs
NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens are pieces of data that have their originality secured through a blockchain system. A blockchain is a digital record of transactions, usually for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or Ethereum. For the most part, NFTs are pieces of digital art or media that are bought by collectors or investors. They have also made their way into video games and now there is even a TV show made by Steve Aoki based around NFTs. Critics of NFTs have noted how much energy is needed to support them due to their reliance on blockchain technology. The problem with blockchain is that it requires a large amount of power to maintain its database. While this problem has been noted and many are looking for appropriate solutions to resolve these issues, it still remains a concern for those interested in engaging with digital art sales. However, African artists and groups have recognised the opportunity that NFTs present.
How NFTs can help African artists
NFTs can provide artists with a new revenue stream. Digital prints and commissions are often the only way digital artists can make money from their work. However few people are willing to pay for something that can be accessed for free online. The security of ownership and bragging rights produced by NFTs give digital art a form of scarcity that encourages financial backing or investment. This gives African artists an opportunity to access markets and profit from their work. In countries where a lack of infrastructure can undermine artists’ ability to sell prints, NFTs are a huge opportunity for these artists to access markets that would otherwise be unavailable. With the recent explosion in Metaverses, African markets stand to gain a lot in this new world of digital art collection.
What are Metaverses
A Metaverse is an artificial world where people can interact and engage online. While this concept is not entirely new, there has been an explosion of activity in the past year. Part of this is because developments in technology have made Metaverses viable logistically. However, NFTs have provided a much-needed profit incentive for Metaverses to function. This interaction will be discussed further but it is important to know that Metaverses offer a number of opportunities for people across the African continent. Beyond giving new markets for artists to engage in, Metaverses can also provide a safe way for people to engage and interact with one another as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It gives people from different countries and communities a way to engage in a far more personal and natural way than telecommunications like Zoom or Skype. The biggest barrier right now would be access to the internet. However, with the growth of African countries into online spaces, it won’t be long before most Africans have access to some form of Metaverse. Speaking of which, South Africa’s first Metaverse Africarare just launched in late 2021.
Ubuntuland and Africarare
Africarare is an online Metaverse and virtual NFT art gallery championed by renowned South African artist Norman Catherine. The virtual space debuted at the SingularityU South Africa Summit 2021 in mid-October. The initial collection of NFTs created by Catherine, one of South Africa’s most prolific artists, sold out in the space of just over a week. Africarare is using two galleries to support both established and up-and-coming artists in the digital space. Africarare has partnered with Ubuntuland and is offering virtual plots for users to purchase with $UBU Coin later in 2022. Norman Catherine’s enthusiasm for the NFT project has also showcased how established artists can shine a spotlight on those who may be struggling to find an audience. Another use for NFTs is brand engagement and customer rewards. A South African startup named Fanfire is looking at the opportunities NFTs could represent for branding.
Fanfire is a South African-based marketing startup that looks to link brands like The Cell C Sharks with NFT branding and fan tokens. What this means is by using the blockchain, and NFTs, Fanfire is able to create virtual memorabilia that will can be turned into physical rewards for loyal fans. The use of blockchain technology also means that brands can continue making money from resales of NFTs and still maintain intellectual property rights. They also provide brands an opportunity to engage with their fans and reward consistent loyalty in unique and interesting ways. This could be through offering tickets to sports events for token holders or offering limited-edition merchandise that is only available for those with specific NFTs. With the development of the first African Metaverse, it will be interesting to see whether this organisation is able to incorporate its work into a virtual world.
How NFTs and Metaverses interact.
As mentioned earlier, Metaverses have only recently seen a surge in popularity. This is largely connected to developments in NFTs and blockchain technology. As a result of blockchain technology, sales of land in Metaverses have a way of being recorded and upheld. This reduces some of the risks associated with Metaverse purchases as they would previously be dependent on whatever server they operated on. Now with blockchain technology ownership can be verified without any difficulty. Beyond that NFTs provides a digital product and currency which can be traded in online Metaverse spaces. This means that virtual spaces can be places where digital art is traded with virtual currency. The digital age has meant the disadvantages in infrastructure that African countries face can be sidestepped and progress can be made. This is why African artists engaging in the NFT space can be quite a lucrative opportunity.
Other African NFTs
Outside of Africarare there have been many African artists who have joined the NFT wave. One such group is Art X. Based in the economic capital of Nigeria Lagos, Art X is an art fair designed to expose African artists to a global audience. In 2021 they released their first virtual auction where artists such as Osinachi were able to sell NFTs of their work. The fair was incredibly successful with some artists reporting an earning of around $75 000.00 per NFT. Art X also looked to investigate the meaning behind NFTs and what they represent for Africans. It’s quite clear that artistic integrity is something that is at the heart of African NFTs and most pieces have a focus on originality and expression. This is quite different from established NFT groups like Pudgy Penguins or Bored Apes. There seems to be more of a genuine investment into artistic creation and seeing NFTs as an opportunity to create in new and exciting ways. Whereas most western envisionings of NFTs appear to be based on a pure profit motive, collecting only for the hope of a return on investment. Whereas groups like Art X and platforms like Africarare appear to be hoping to create a healthy artistic market focused on selling and creating wholly unique artworks to be enjoyed for the sake of art.