How blockchain is bringing African art to the world

Masculinity, homophobia, gender roles. Inspired by David Hockney – and using Microsoft Word as his brush – Africa’s foremost innovative artist Osinachi is challenging prevailing notions of African art – and blockchain technology has given him a global platform despite the recent NFT downturn.

In 2021, the 32-year-old became the first African digital artist to break into the rarefied halls of Christie’s auction house in London. His series of five NFTs, ‘Different Shades of Water’, first exhibited at the London edition of the African art fair.

While the endorsement of Christie’s was game-changing, Osinachi has stressed the importance of blockchain technology in his ascent to the world stage. 

Speaking to Artsy he said:

“Before, artists waited on companies to employ them to produce a particular work. That has changed now—digital artists can make what they want and find someone is willing to buy their works on the blockchain.”

Supported by NFT marketplaces such as SuperRare, OpenSea, and Nifty Gateway, Osinachi has scaled a global audience by bypassing the traditional gatekeepers, collectors, and dealers of the art establishment. 

And the good news for African art is this is not an isolated story. Osinachi is just one gilded name in an emerging list of African artists blazing a trail in digital art. 

Across the continent, digital artist communities for African digital artists are forming despite the volatile price backdrop. These include the African NFT community, African NFT Collective, Black NFT Art, Network of African NFT Artists, Afro Future DAO, Kenyan NFT Club, and Nigeria NFT Community. These communities are functioning artistic ecosystems that host events, and encourage collaboration and sharing of resources. 

The full picture 

But while the revolution of NFTs has created a new borderless world for innovative African artists, there are still challenges to overcome. Ade Adekola, another emerging West African NFT artist, has his own space in Victoria Island, an upmarket neighbourhood in Lagos. 

He has been previously critical of the current NFT structure, arguing that it is not an artist’s creative powers that manage to break through but their ability to sell and communicate. Osinachi also believes there are still too few African artists in the NFT space—citing the technological complexity and difficulties of building a following – as well as gas fees – the cost of a transaction on the blockchain. 

Wider adoption 

Fortunately, broader adoption should lift all sails. Interest has been boosted by a recent domestic surge in African crypto use. Between July 2022 and June 2023, Africa saw $105.6 billion in cryptocurrency payments, a roughly 1,200 percent increase over the previous year. Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africaranked in the top ten countries for crypto use.

Regulatory challenges remain; the Nigerian government had prohibited banks and financial institutions from using cryptocurrencies, causing many Nigerians to panic empty their crypto wallets. While Nigeria announced new rules earlier this year to ease the restrictions, more than a dozen African countries still carry bans – including Egypt and Morocco. 

But these are the growing pains of adopting new technology. Ultimately, creativity finds a way – and blockchain can underpin global art democratisation. 

African digital art is just getting started. Blockchain offers emerging arts representation, freedom of expression and sales. Christie’s accepting Osinachi was a milestone but soon, it will be the old world

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