Where’s the Demand for Unapologetically Black Art in the NFT Market?

Image source: The Guardian.

The digital revolution is opening more doors to Black businesses. I love this for us.

I don’t, however, think equal access to these opened doors guarantees the same treatment for everyone greeted at said doors.

So I’m cautious about advocating for Black creatives to join in on the NFT market. I’m not explaining what an NFT is — links will be below to learn more about this trend. What I care about more is how a new digital art movement could actually deliver on the promises it makes.

One of those promises is greater accessibility to more patrons for Black artists. The shucking and jiving for displays in major art galleries is eradicated by the ability to upload art yourself to platforms like Foundation and get discovered by the customers looking for what you’re selling, according to the vanguards of this movement.

The only statistic I could find on Black artists is that, between January and November 2020, 58 Black artists sold the equivalent of $736,000 USD in cryptoart (another term for art sold as NFTs) whereas total global sales reached $12.9 million USD that same year.

That’s a wide gap and a select handful to hedge a bet on. I’m rooting for all the Black people and right now this is barely enough to win. It’s very much giving tokenism.

Rather than just ask how we can do better than 58, I dug up some research that may point to answers.

Erika Alexander, affectionately known to us as Maxine Waters from Living Single, is one of the multiple Black celebrities trying to catalyze the Black crypto art buzz and hinted at one approach in a recent interview. “When I was on Living Single, the audience would come in at the end of the week…And they told us where the jokes weren’t, whether this was funny, and we would reshape it and come back at them. What you hear [in the sitcom episodes] is that conversation.”

Photo credit: Jorge Fuentes Photography.

I’ve seen several exhibits highlighting Black talent who want to start conversations around BLM and Afrofuturism. And it makes perfect sense that they default to these themes after last year’s dismounting of colonialists’ statues and blockbusters like Black Panther and Black is King beating box office/streaming records. The two themes drive the zeitgeist within the Black community, but do they hold the same weight with the largest demographic of NFT buyers: white folks?

If a statement is made when no one is around to receive it, does it still make a sound? It’s a question you gotta ask if you wanna connect making an impact and making an income.

The answer is yes, you can and SHOULD promote art that expresses what’s important to you, especially if using the medium for social dialogue is your goal. Know, however, that the principles of supply and demand still reign. The worst thing you could do is passively produce and upload art of any kind (political or not) and assume you’ll automatically cash in on the NFT hype.

Black artists don’t just need more opportunities to participate in innovations like the NFT market. They need a strategy. And the strategy has to be realistic about where there’s sufficient coin to spread around so all Black artists get to eat and be FULL.

Going back to Erika Alexander’s quote, Black artists need to have conversations with those who have the money to pay the right, equitable price for their work. As a fellow creator I know we can be sensitive about our shit, and that can mean resenting any changes made to our craft to appeal to a wider audience. The atypical consumer of unapologetically Black art may not fully appreciate what it represents to the people symbolized within it unless you meet them halfway.

There is a way to express our #blackexcellence, Black Girl Magic, or African heritage that’s not overbearingly about how and why we thrive in spite of whiteness. I hope that don’t sound All Lives Matter-ly.

Art addressing the negative repercussions of slavery, Jim Crow, and colonialism has its immovable place in the canon of Black art. But with the way capitalism is set up, the market for those pieces could be quite slim or verges on trauma porn. There’s no reason for Black expression to be limited to these themes, or become undervalued because it’s not addressing them.

I’m thinking about “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: The Sapphire Show”, recently featured by the New York Times, as evidence of Black (women) artists’ talent in repackaging the archetypes of the Black persona in relation to motifs considered more “ubiquitous”.

Exhibit from 1970 The Sapphire Show. Source: New York Times.

For example, the artists using minimalist pieces to reframe the context under which a Black woman might be called headstrong or resilient, without ramming that message down the viewers’ throats. The revamped Sapphire Show exhibit displayed in Tribeca this summer shows how appreciation for unapologetically Black art in traditionally white spaces has evolved, especially given that the first show debuted in 1970 with very little fanfare or revenue from white or Black consumers alike.

Long story short: Black artists, get FREE. Expand your options and tell original stories using the building blocks that make sense in the “mainstream” of consumer art. I’m by no means an art coach, nor do I have the qualifications to direct anyone on how exactly to construct art in a digestible way for richer, white clients.

What I do know is that you need to pay bills. As long as markets exist, the right marketing will be crucial to generating Black wealth through Black art. So don’t be afraid to explore any means necessary for that visibility, and cash in accordingly.

To learn more about NFTs, click the articles below:

What You Need To Know About Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)

NFTs, explained

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Seun Shokunbi explores stories of women as power brokers in the political and entrepreneurial arenas of Africa & the African diaspora. These are personal essays that show the journey to combining hustler mentality with social activism.

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Seun Shokunbi

Seun Shokunbi

Seun Shokunbi is a past contributor to Face2Face Africa, and a speaker for TEDx. Learn more at www.itsseunshokunbi.com/bio.

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