Amrita Sethi made art with voice notes long before NFT (non-fungible tokens) became mainstream. Today, her digital art sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and she receives custom commissions from royalty and major brands to help create their own NFTs.
NFTs are all the rage for a reason. With a few clicks, an informed person can buy original, unique digital art and become a collector, investor, or even flip art to make serious money.
“Buying an NFT involves trying a brand new, evolving technology, so make sure you educate yourself and explore-before-you-buy,” said Jamil Abu-Wardeh, founder of crypto and NFT advisory firm Metkaf.com. “Don’t fall into the FOMO trap of buying into something because others are doing it. With the right information, you could buy into something very valuable. NFTs are here to stay.”
Alongside Sethi, award-winning contemporary artist Kristel Bechara is one of the first NFT creatives from the region. Having always been fascinated by Decentralized Finance (DeFi), she became an early adopter and used transformative new technology to create art. She started accepting payment in cryptocurrencies and eventually launched her own NFT art series — Beauty in DeFi. “I saw how beneficial NFTs are for creators and collectors because of the transparent transactional process that safeguards the authenticity of the artwork being sold,” says Bechara.
“After years of defending digital art as an ‘actual’ art form, it has always been a challenge for digital artists like myself to have our digital work valued on the same scale as traditional art,” she explained. “With NFTs being introduced, it created a new market for digital art and gave it widespread recognition from the mainstream media.”
The world of cryptocurrency, blockchain and NFTs is witnessing accelerated growth and interest during the pandemic. With more people online seeking financial alternatives, a digital, decentralized financial system offers distinct appeal. In the Middle East, digital artists — and new platforms – began to spring up in an evolving NFT landscape. However, the industry is still facing a learning curve.
“Everyone wants to launch NFTs all of a sudden, but they aren’t sure what they are,” said Sethi, whose latest brand partnership includes launching an NFT collection with Commercial Bank of Dubai. “The big boss will tell the marketing team to sort it out, and they lack the knowledge or interest. But this is gradually changing. I’m now inundated with requests from brands, and the regional scene is becoming more sophisticated.”
Meanwhile, Bechara pointed out the major benefit of NFTs providing proof of ownership, like an online contract, allowing an artist to sell directly to a collector. Blockchain has created a way to trade art online legitimately.
“Whatever success I have had, I like to see it as paving the way for other female Arab artists who would like to enter the digital realm with their creations,” she said. “In the near future, we will see a lot more NFT art being produced and sold from artists in this region and traditional artists embracing the technology in creating immutable provenance for their paintings.”
This is the exact sentiment that NFT trading platforms are betting on. NFTs are traditionally bought and sold on global online platforms like Open Sea, which recently received a $300 million funding round, resulting in a $13.3 billion valuation in Q1 of this year. Regional entrepreneurs are taking it to the level with new NFT trading platforms offering curated work.
NftOne.com, a new platform registered in the DIFC, made a big splash in January with the sale of The Pontifex for 25 Ethereum ($84,402). The Pontifex is an NFT version of an Afghan carpet gifted to Pope Francis by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, in 2016. While Pope Francis still owns the physical carpet, the NFT version was sold in January 2022 to raise funds for Afghanistan.
“Our grand opening was with The Pontifex sale, and we aim to continue to educate and curate major artists to feature on our platform,” said Musfir Khawaja, co-founder of NftOne.com. “Content is usually monetized when popular on other platforms, but not by the artist. Our platform gives the artist their power back.”
NftOne.com has clear royalty payments and security checks – a significant advantage in a relatively new, unregulated market. The team worked with Morrow Collective, which specializes in NFT exhibitions, and was involved in selling The Pontifex. In January 2022, Morrow Collective opened an exhibition of 50 NFTs by UAE-based artists supported by Dubai Culture.
“We had new collectors coming to start their collections and existing collectors interested in discovering new artists. This is a very different response to one year ago when we started. Back then, people didn’t even know what an NFT was,” said Anna Seaman, curator at Morrow Collective. “In March, we will participate in Art Dubai’s new digital section alongside other global spaces dedicated to NFTs, and this is another positive sign of growth.”
From the Commercial Bank of Dubai to a holographic fashion show by fashion designer Rami Kadi, it’s clear that the NFT space is evolving fast. And worth taking a few minutes to learn about.
FIRST-TIMER’S GUIDE TO BUYING AN NFT
Let’s start with a definition:
NFT: Non-fungible token: A blockchain-based token that allows you to purchase a digital asset. It’s a fancy way of saying you paid to receive a unique, secure serial number proving that you own a unique digital file online, like a print of a photo, video, art, or music.
So, how do you buy an NFT? We break it down into three simple steps that take 30 minutes to complete with the help of an expert consultant.
Step 1: Buy Ethereum, the leading cryptocurrency used to buy NFTs. Using your credit card, you can purchase Ethereum from an established trading platform like Binance or CoinMena.
Step 2: Download Metamask Wallet, a digital wallet that holds your Ethereum, so you are ready to make purchases on other platforms.
Step 3: Buy NFT from OpenSea, an online gallery of visual and audio assets available for purchase.
“Think of using Ethereum like withdrawing cash from a Binance ATM and putting it in your Metamask wallet,” explained Abu-Wardeh. “Then, you can go to the mall, which is OpenSea, to buy your NFT. And remember to keep your passwords secure, just like your PIN.”
That’s it. Welcome to the age of digital art.