When people think of African art, they often picture tribal statues and paintings of warriors for sale at tourist markets. Self-evidently, such items do not represent the entire artistic life of the continent. Today, African art counts many world-famous exponents. In this short contribution I would like to take a closer look at so-called non-fungible tokens (NFTs) phenomenon, and the ways in which they have been approached also by African artists of national, continental and global fame. The term “NFT” indicates a way of selling pieces of art through their certificates – attesting to the authenticity, uniqueness and ownership of a digital object – by means of a blockchain system. It is no surprise indeed that African artists are keeping up with the most recent innovations, since Africa has proven to be particularly open and receptive to new technologies, due to its unique demographics predominantly made up of young people.
The NFTs have led to a game-changing innovation in the art market, especially in its legal framework: there is in fact a substantial difference between the material purchasing and “the right of ownership” ensured by NFTs: by buying an artwork linked to an NFT, the buyer does not acquire the work itself, but the possibility of demonstrating a right over the work. This process is guaranteed by means of a “smart contract”, thus a computer protocol, also duly recorded on a blockchain system, which avoids the risk of acquiring the rights to a fake artwork.
NFTs represent indeed a relatively new frontier of online trading that has recently incremented its already successful role, despite being introduced only in 2017. Africa became exceptionally fertile ground for the spread of NFTs due to its vocation for technological innovation and its particularly high relative volume of online traffic due in part also to the lack of physical infrastructure. In this regard, it is important to point out that the first mobile currency was born in Africa, specifically in Kenya in 2007, born out of a joint venture between Vodafone and Safaricom, and a brilliant example of how information and communications technology (ICT) is finding great response on the African continent.
Adding to this, in the last 20 years, African artists have been using the web to exchange digital works, consciously facing the risk of plagiarism and uncontrolled reproduction, with the result of mass circulation of digital works. NFTs actually prevent and reduce such events of plagiarism, pushing more and more artists to consider them a profitable practice. Their roaring popularity has baffled many, but its unprecedented growth keeps on increasing.
This year Christie’s held its first NFT sale for an artist, Osinachi, a clear sign that the NFT wave is sweeping through the continent. NFTs also received a lot of attention during the most recent art fair held in Lagos, Nigeria. The fair chose to hold a special NFT sale in collaboration with digital art marketplace Superrare, showcasing NFT artists such as Youssef El Idrissi, Linda Dounia and Rendani Nemakhavhani from across Africa and afro-descendant countries, such as Morocco, Jamaica, South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda and Senegal. In May 2021, Abdulrahman Yusuf from Nigeria was selling his work online through Non-Fungible Tokens, increasing the total number of sales as well as their and their individual value.
The NFT phenomenon appears destined to become increasingly popular in Africa, and its exponential growth indicative of a new paradigm of future development. Perhaps it is also for this reason that phenomena such as NFTs are emerging more rapidly in areas such as the African and Indian continents, where the population is younger and considered to be particularly open-minded. As far as external investors are concerned, this trend should leave to a deep reflection on how to approach the African Market of tomorrow.
Edited in Africaeaffari, L’ARTE AFRICANA ORA E’ TRENDY