Malaysian artists earn the freedom to be creative with NFTs | Art and culture news


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Life-size murals, whimsical installations and every color on the canvas: Before the COVID-19 pandemic closed art and performance rooms in March 2020, the art festivals and galleries of the Malaysian cities of Kuala Lumpur and George Town served as lifeline, and inspiration, to the Artist of the country.

But with the interruptions of the past 20 months, many have struggled to survive as full-time, “physical” artists and have been forced to step out of their comfort zones.

Some have ventured into the emerging world of non-fungible tokens (NFT) and cryptocurrency.

NFTs are unique digital assets designed to represent ownership of a virtual item: unlike Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, NFTs cannot be exchanged for other NFTs, making them scarce and increasing their value.

This concept is perfect for collecting works of art and has driven an unprecedented trend in digital consumption: in March, the American digital artist Mike Winklemann, known as Beeple, sold an NFT of his work Everydays: The First 5000 Days for an unbelievable 69 million US dollars prominent British auction house Christie’s.

In Malaysia, the idea of ​​NFT art emerged as a fun pastime for graduates of design, multimedia, engineering and architecture. It was made popular by Filamen, a Kuala Lumpur-based collective of multidisciplinary digital creatives, who opened the Seni Kripto (“Cryptoart” in Malay) exhibition in their physical space, Digital Art Gallery, on the University of Malaya campus in April 2021.

Katuns Garden of Bloom, one of his very successful NFT works [Image courtesy of Katun]

The Malaysian art scene quickly recognized the potential of NFTs, launched the first Crypto Art Week in July and founded, the first local NFT marketplace. It has already earned some local artists the cryptocurrency equivalent of millions of Malaysian ringgits.

New concept of art

“NFT in Malaysia has seen significant growth over the past year,” Mumu of Stan AKA Munira Hamzah (Moon) of Malaysia NFT told Al Jazeera. This new nonprofit and digital gallery supports Malaysian artists in the NFT scene, mints funds, and provides educational materials and peer support to empower and promote Malaysian art in the global scene.

“At the beginning of the year you could probably count on one hand the number of Malaysian artists who actively shape and sell NFTs. That number rose steadily to hundreds over several months, and now we’re probably in the thousands, ”said Moon.

NFT artwork by Malaysian artists encompasses the range of 3D animations, internet memes and illustrations inspired by the multi-ethnic culture of the Southeast Asian nation.

Moon says the growth of the NFT scene has changed the way Malaysian artists traditionally make a living – from commissioned work – and “provide new-found confidence and a source of income that is not based on what customers want, but on.” the wishes of the artists ”. to be reached personally and creatively ”.

For some of them, NFTs have brought back the joy of art.

“It gives me the opportunity to expand and show my creativity [my work] how I wish to pursue copyright and keep records of creation, ”Penang-based artist Kenny Ng told Al Jazeera.

Others have given NFTs a tangible opportunity to make staggering profits on Ether, the cryptocurrency that is Ethereum’s main asset, the open-source, decentralized blockchain with smart contract functionality in which NFTs are traded.

In early September, the Kuala Lumpur-based graffiti artist Abdul Hafiz Abdul Rahman, better known by the name Katun, made headlines for selling two of its NFT collections in less than 24 hours for 127.6 ETH – the equivalent of 1.6 million Malaysian ringgits ($ 400,000). It was the most expensive batch of NFTs ever sold in one publication by a Malaysian artist.

“It’s very clear to see that the money won, if done right, can really make a difference to any Southeast Asian artist as crypto is growing exponentially on a daily basis,” Katun told Al Jazeera.

But while NFT sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme, it has evolved into a progressive, helpful community, at least in Malaysia. For example, Katun founded 4 Stages, a digital platform with the aim of bringing together Southeast Asian artists.

“There are so many talented artists here who are not exposed to the rest of the world enough,” Katun told Al Jazeera, adding that NFT’s rapid growth and global reach will be key to its presence as well as to drive the monetary profits of Malaysian artists well beyond the geographic and economic constraints of the country’s small physical art market.

Skeletons in the closet

The benefits of using NFT and cryptocurrency are evident in a developing region where there are many artists but the art space and freedom of expression are restricted.

The catch, however, is that these digital works of art are paid for with cryptocurrencies, the mining of which is now one of the most carbon-polluting companies in the world.

Memebanks Doge to the Moon print poking fun at Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s plan to fund a space flight by selling DOGE coins [Marco Ferrarese/Al Jazeera]

In other words, many of the websites that help artists sell NFT artwork, like the popular OpenSea, are based on the Ethereum blockchain, which is very environmentally damaging by design.

According to a study by digital artist Memo Akten, which was published on the website, “the sale of a single work of art on Ethereum has a carbon footprint of around 100 kg CO2, which corresponds to a one-hour flight”.

“I was hesitant at first, but then I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people, especially technologists who really understand blockchain, and then my views changed,” said the Kuala Lumpur-based artist Red Hong Yiwho is known as Red, said Al Jazeera.

Red, from Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, established itself internationally with portraits of Chinese celebrities such as Ai Weiwei and Jackie Chan, which she realized with a selection of everyday objects, ranging from used tea bags to bundles of chopsticks, eggshells and socks.

Her impressive work, Climate is Everything, was the result of creating and burning a map of the world from 50,000 green-tipped matches pasted onto a whiteboard.

Few had expected even Red to want to try NFT technology with this in mind, but it debuted earlier this year with Doge to the Moon – a counterfeit banknote that inspired Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s idea to fund its upcoming launch. celebrates and makes fun of the Doge 1 satellite entirely with DOGE coin, a fictional cryptocurrency whose mascot is a Shiba Inu dog.

Doge to the Moon was minted and auctioned on the Binance NFT Marketplace for two weeks, with a maximum bid of 36.3 ETH (about 320,000 Malaysian ringgit ($ 75,500). The sale helped Red help organize 1000 Tiny Artworks, a physical display of Artworks by 100 Malaysian artists taking place in Kuala Lumpur from December 17th to 19th.

Doge to the Moon is also part of Red’s latest NFT project, Memebank, a counterfeit central bank with six banknotes inspired by the Chinese yuan, the US dollar, the Japanese yen, the British pound, the Singapore dollar and the Malaysian ringgit , and addresses the rather complex issue of “how economists have warned of the dangers of inflation when central banks continuously print money,” Red told Al Jazeera.

Unlike most other NFT projects, Memebank is not just a digital product. Each buyer receives a 1/1 canvas print of the artwork and their own physical copper plate of the chosen banknote so they can print as many copies as they want.

Decrease the volume of carbon

One reason to believe in NFT art is that this digital space is moving fast, with the creation of new, low-energy blockchains like Tezos running and expected on a system called “Proof-of-Stake” (Pos) to drastically reduce the current carbon effects of NFTs. “[Tezos] is basically the same as using your stake node every day, ”said Katun.

Kuala Lumpur-based artist Katun with Apes Stand Strong, one of the two NFTs who made him a fortune [Image courtesy of Katun]

“People won’t stop taking flights even if planes have a carbon footprint because that solves time and distance problems. Blockchain, the technology that supports cryptocurrency and NFTs, solves trust problems through transparency so that we don’t need an intermediary in the transaction. It gives control back to the majority. The current system is in the hands of a few, ”Ivy Fung, a Sabahan blockchain advocate and trainer based in Kuala Lumpur, told Al Jazeera.

“Many researchers are working on [ways of] Reduction of energy consumption, and some are already implemented, for example with the help of a more energy efficient mechanism, Pos, in which the trust is based on the promised share and not on the computing power, which uses a lot of energy. “

It remains to be seen whether NFT art will be able to distinguish itself after the novelty has worn out. After all, the rules of success are in many ways similar to the traditional route of gallery exhibitions and hard-to-crack collector’s markets.

“It’s like a new NFT is created and uploaded every minute,” Kenny Ng told Al Jazeera. “[Success still] really depends on the endeavors of the artists themselves to advertise themselves and to become visible. “


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