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When cryptocurrency meets art

Jordanian artists are increasingly turning to cryptocurrency to sell their works

A piece of NFT art by artist Hamzeh Alsheikh-Ali. (Photo: Handout from Hamzeh Alsheikh-Ali)
AMMAN — Nonfungible tokens (NFTs), which act as digital certificates of ownership using blockchain technology, are the latest trend for Jordanian artists, creatives, and collectors.اضافة اعلان

NFTs allow artists to tokenize their work, digitally marking the original piece to distinguish it from any duplicates. The token therefore acts as a proof of authenticity that can be auctioned and exchanged.

According to the NFT 2020 Yearly Report, “2020 appears to have been the year of revival for the NFT economy.” The industry made more than $250 million in total sales in 2020 — a 299-percent increase from 2019; a digital artist called “Beeple” sold one NFT for $69 million at a Christie’s auction in March.

The report for the first quarter of 2021 has also recorded a steep growth with more than $2 billion of total volume traded in NFT. This equals a 13,118-percent jump compared to the first quarter of 2020.

Mo’ath Khlifat, a technology and blockchain expert in Jordan, defined an NFT as “a unit of data stored on a digital ledger called a blockchain, which certifies a digital asset to be unique and therefore not interchangeable.”

He added that NFTs have different applications and are a worthwhile investment. Additionally, the phenomenon allows artists to grow, according to Khlifat.

“A lot of artists couldn’t sell globally and now they have the technology to do that,” he said. “The process is simple — just like sending and receiving any kind of cryptocurrency using the Ethereum blockchain.”

Solenne Tadros, a creative technologist and designer, also told Jordan News that NFTs run on the Ethereum blockchain, a cryptocurrency that is decentralized and uses a “smart contract”.

“Once something is published onto the blockchain, you cannot remove it, hack it, or lose it.” She explained that a smart contract “records ownership data onto the Ethereum blockchain. No one can modify records of ownership or move them elsewhere.”

“The NFT could be an art piece, a collectible, or even real-estate,” Tadros said. “It can only have one official owner at a time, and this is secured on the blockchain as no one can simply modify this data, hack it, or erase it.”

This, according to the technologist, gives digital artists a newfound security that was only enjoyed in the physical realm, such as paintings and sculptures, in the past. With NFTs, digital artists are able to provide proof of authenticity and ownership.

“Digital artists have been sharing work online without these securities. And they were unable to truly get a financial return for their artwork. You can still screenshot and download an NFT art piece from the internet but that does not mean you own it,” she explained.

Whereas traditional paintings might be displayed at a gallery, NFTs are displayed in online marketplaces, according to Tadros. The process requires setting up a cryptowallet, adding an image and description, minting (publishing the artwork on the blockchain), and, finally, paying a “gas fee” depending on the energy consumed by minting at that time.

The digital asset owner must set their price in Ethereum cryptocurrency, which can either be fixed or open to bids, according to Tadros.

“There is a hype around NFTs because this type of security and transaction for digital artists is well overdue,” she said, adding that A-list celebrities and prestigious organizations have been selling NFTs as well. This includes Christie’s Auction House, the NBA, and musical artist The Weeknd.

Tadros has partnered with her friend and her sister, Zaid Abdein and Christina Tadros, to introduce this phenomenon to Jordan by starting an Instagram page called “Spill the NFTea.”

“Our goal is to encourage creatives and collectors to get onto the blockchain and participate in this booming market. Our team is working with a few digital artists and assisting them in setting up a cryptowallet, minting their work as an NFT, and placing their NFT on online marketplaces,” she said. “We hope we get to continue elevating our community’s digital artists onto the blockchain.”

Tadros’s main concern is the environmental impact of NFTs, which consumes a large amount of energy. Nonetheless, she believes the younger generation will be able to find a way for the blockchain to function sustainably.

Jad Aqrabawi is one local artist who has very recently hopped on the trend. He auctioned his first NFT on Monday for a reserve price of 0.3972 Ether, which equates to more than $1,000. The artwork is an oil on canvas painting titled “Serendipity”.

“People were asking me if my painting was available as a token, so I considered doing it. The hype was on and I thought I should embrace it while it’s still at its peak and test the waters,” he told Jordan News in an interview.

It can be viewed on a platform for digital art NFTs called Foundation. A 24-hour auction will be held once a bidder meets the reserve price set by the artist.

“It’s a funny story. I got an invitation to the crypto marketplace from a stranger,” Aqrabawi said. “There aren’t any specific requirements. It all comes down to what you are trying to sell.”

The painter described the experience as “fun”, adding that he looks forward to continuing learning and experimenting.

“It seemed good to get into that world and a lot of people are interested in my work, so I believe it is an opportunity for me as an artist. Any experience with new media helps me grow and eventually achieve my purpose,” he said.

Hamzeh Alsheikh-Ali, an illustrator and NFT artist and collector, likewise has great faith in the NFT industry. He told Jordan News that it has boosted his confidence, his motivation and his exposure.

Alsheikh-Ali already had prior knowledge about cryptocurrency; watching Beeple make history encouraged him to mint his first NFT. The minting process cost him $60 worth of Ethereum. 

The illustrator believes NFTs are a great opportunity for digital artists to build connections and gain profits.

“The NFT space brought many people together. It gave hope for financial independence especially as digital artists are fed up with having their art devalued by traditionalists and non-artists,” he said.

He concluded by saying that “The NFT space is not a bubble; it is the future for artists and collectors alike. People would know that if they understand the technology that backs it.”

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