KOCHI: Earlier this year, artists and art enthusiasts around the world opened their eyes to Non-Fungible Token or NFT. Much like cryptocurrency, NFT has been around for some time too — probably since 2014 with blockchain-based virtual platforms like Decentraland or CryptoPunks knocking around — but it didn’t become mainstream till 2021 February or so. Now, what is a Non-Fungible Token? A fungible token can be broken down and transferred — much like a 100 rupee bill can be broken into five 20 rupee bills. In contrast, a non-fungible token is a digital asset that belongs solely to the digital space and cannot be tampered with —you can’t touch it or break it down, but you can own it. As you do so, the details of the original owner and any secondary transactions are recorded, creating a sort of digital footprint for the token.
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In the realm of digital art, when an artist who owns a creation is assigned an NFT, it cannot be switched for an equivalent value. However, its value can increase or decrease at any point in time depending on the market, much like cryptocurrency. Christie’s, a British auction house founded by James Christie in 1766, made history in March when it sold American digital artist Beeple’s work ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ for $69.3m through an NFT sale.
In June, teenage band One Direction’s Liam Payne, Grammy-winner Zedd and audio-reactive artist Sillygabe collaborated to make the Lonely Bug Collection which he put up for NFT bid. Around the same time, Zero Contact, a movie that features two-time Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins and was shot entirely on Zoom, was released on VUELE, the world’s debut NFT viewing platform. Just last week, Phillips, the New York-based auction company, put up three NFTs from a series ‘Sound of Color’ that features abstract cube art by Los Angeles-based artist Ryan Wilson aka ThankYouX created against a musical score by composer Han Zimmer.
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Alongside these international events, NFT caught up like wildfire around the same time in India too, especially in Kerala. The myriad of virtual content emerging from the country - digital art, music, movies, 3-D animation and what not - was limited to social media platforms so far, especially because the traditional art and craft marketplace that revolved around galleries and auctions, didn’t know how to accommodate them. This need for evolution and the Covid-induced digital boom is probably what made NFT popular in the homegrown market as it is outside.
“In a post-pandemic world especially, when traditional means of exhibiting and selling art has become obsolete, NFT is offering tech-savvy artists a space to interact and sell on a global scale,” says Vimal Chandran, one of the first Malayali artists to jump on the bandwagon. Vimal has been engaging extensively with Wazirx, an Indian NFT platform, where he sold an Indo-futuristic art piece - a genre he discovered - named ‘Arrival’, that blends the simplicity of his village and science fiction for almost H2.5 lakhs on June 1, in under 24 hours! The second one from the series, ‘The Contact’, was sold in under four hours. “Earlier, if I had to sell artwork, I would take a print, convert the digital piece into analogue and sell it. But with NFT, you show up and do business as a digital artist. However, what sells there, is your brand. My series reinvented magical realism, my memories of traditional art forms that I watched growing up, and that made it unique. This, and the fact that I have accomplished myself as a digital artist over the years, is what fetched me the momentum I got,” says Vimal.
Arijit Das, a Hyderabad-based NFT collector, who was one of the first to collect Vimal’s artworks on Wazirx, seconds this idea of a brand building. He has collected almost 20 artworks so far, some of which he has managed to resell in the international market.
The Indian market and collectors are yet to catch the drift, he says. “I have been dabbling with the crypto trade for a while now. In June, I stumbled across NFT. You could tell, from the way the market is booming, that in the next 10 years or so, even traditional collectors are going to jump in. NFT is going to be here for a long time,” he says. Understanding the supply and concept demand is as important as a technological acquaintance, he says. “We used to call Calcutta the cultural capital of India. But if you ask me, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have taken over that space with the arrival of NFT, solely because of the number of people who are enthusiastic about both art and technology in these regions,” he quips.
Zoë Roth, the girl featured on the famous ‘disaster girl’ meme, sold the piece for $500,000 in April. This is just a basic example of the kind of democracy that NFT brings into the digital platform. “Imagine being able to visit digital galleries with VR gear and buy artwork, resell it, being able to reach international buyers without recommendations or toiling for years. If you have a concept and understanding of how it works, you can get on board and make the best out of NFT,” says Vimal.