Voices Pushpesh Pant Brishti Guha and Indrani Guha Anuja Chandramouli Ravi Shankar Sathya Saran Mata Amritanandamayi MAGAZINE Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI JUly 11 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 what are NFTs? An NFT or a non-fungible token is a collectible digital asset. It represents a one-of-a-kind item, for example, a particular painting; since no two paintings are the same. It may ‘look’ similar to another, but will always be differentiated by a change in texture, medium, even context. Similar to a cryptocurrency—Bitcoin or Ethereum—NFT has its own uniqueness. It cannot be exchanged like-for-like. NFTs are defining sales and possession in the art world, even as the pandemic has brought us India’s first blockchainpowered online platform The Master’s View Token of Art Appreciation By Medha dutta yadav A rmed with his Crayola white chalk, Canadian actor, author, chalk artist and calligrapher Rajiv Surendra works with quiet confidence. He knows that if he doesn’t like what he is drawing on the wall, all he has to do is “just erase it”. Surendra, who is equally at home carving and shaping his own cutting board from wood that he chopped down, weaving cloth from wool of sheep sheared by him, or even re-caning a wicker chair, is drawn to the ephemeral beauty of chalk. Twentynine-year-old Bengaluru artist Harshit Agrawal, who became the first Indian artist to join the NFT art bandwagon, would understand this love for the ephemeral. As many as eight of his AI-generated artworks that can only be viewed in a digital medium were minted as NFTs. “NFT loosely means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced with something else. And this is the future,” he says simply . Simply put, NFTs or non-fungible tokens are a unit of data stored on a digital ledger or blockchain. A unique system that has been in the making since 2012—May 2014 saw the creation of the first so-called NFT at the New Museum in New York by Kevin McCoy and Anil Dash—2021 gave it the muchneeded fillip, especially in the art community Christies and . Sotheby’s both entered the NFT market. While Christies spearheaded the trend by auctioning digital artist Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5,000 Days for a whopping $69.3 million, Sotheby’s followed up with digital artist Pak’s works bringing in $16.8 million. Of course, the pandemic served as the right moment. Physical art venues were shut and artists— especially digital artists—realised that here was a worthy platform to market their efforts. “Digital art has long been around, but never quite entered the mainstream art market because of the worry of it being easily replicated and thereby lacking authenticity NFTs solve . that problem by tamper-proof provenance on the blockchain. This has suddenly made digital art a great collectible, and big art institutions and the art world at large are responding to this,” says Agrawal. The pandemic also saw the birth of India’s exclusive blockchain-powered online platform—Terrain. art—focusing on art from South Asia. The platform has mounted its first edition of Masters, showcasing 27 works by legendary Bengal artist Lalu Prasad Shaw, certified using NFTs. The year 2021 has turned NFTs into a Gold Rush movement for the art world. Nothing is suddenly impossible. Delhibased artist Pratul Dash agrees, “Keeping in mind the current development around blockchain technology NFTs are definitely , the future. Paradigms are changing worldwide. We are in a very exciting yet transitional phase. Indian artists can monetise their artworks on the internet; unlike earlier when the works on the net could easily be stolen or copied.” Why the Craze? Indrajit Chatterjee, director of Mumbai-based auction house Prinseps, will host the country’s first-ever NFT auction on July 15. Oscar-winning costume designer Bhanu Athaiya’s sketches will be on sale, as will be 35 digital prints of 1950s artist Gobardhan Ash’s ‘ vatar’ series. A While NFTs or digital receipts prove ownership—be it a piece of art or even a tweet—it does not mean that the owner can hold the physical art in his hands or display it on her walls. Why the interest in NFTs, then? For one, there’s big money involved. Established institutions are also coming forward to take a share of the cake. The owner of an NFT-certified art does not even get to be the only one who can view the art—anyone with digital access can view it—s/he has no exclusive right over the artwork or its distribu- “Digital art has long been around, but never quite entered the mainstream art market because of the worry of it being easily replicated and thereby lacking authenticity. NFTs solve that problem by tamper-proof provenance on the blockchain.” Harshit Agrawal, AI artist tion. In short, it is the unique token that one buys, not the artwork per se. But in the art world, this unique token is yet another form of investing. Also, with the US dollar no longer enjoying the high returns it once did, NFTs could be the way forward for many to park their investment. Additionally these unique , tokens solve a very important pain point of vouching for the authenticity of any artwork. And in doing that through digital solutions, it also becomes a new channel for the discovery of newer works. It becomes a foundational solution for connecting art and its buyers. And big names are hopping on. It began as early as February , with the first-ever NFT performance art by Russian artist Petr Davydtchenko. Internationally renowned art curator Francesco Bonami—or The Bonamist as he is known on Instagram—is collaborating with Hoge Finance, a cryptocurrency platform. Celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Paris Hilton have also taken to the new medium to showcase their art. Milan, the global capital of design, is opening a new contemporary art gallery—Plan X Art Gallery—that will host NFT-certified works of Costa Rican artist John Paul Fauves. And, of course, there is the eccentric genius of Banksy , whose artworks were shredded and even burnt at live-streamed auctions even as the digital tokens went for millions. Entering the Digital Space With big institutions such as Christies and Sotheby’s adapting to NFT, it only endorses the idea and brings the right eyes and ears to it. “This will improve and proliferate the awareness of art in general. More global institutions, as well as personnel associated with them, will warm up to the new system. Also, with more art going digital, NFT definitely does to the ecosystem what e-mails have done to communication. It will become more accessible and hence it would lead to more adoption. I’m convinced it will become omnipresent. It’s just a matter of time, evolution and adaptability says Bengaluru-based artist ,” Abhigna Kedia. And as Agrawal has pointed out earlier, art is evolving and becoming more tech-oriented. The pandemic has led to the digitisation of art on a major scale—from creation to its presentation. So the physical barriers are already being breached. The curation-only NFT platform—SuperRare—hosts both artists and collectors. Agrawal is India’s only AI artist to be featured on the platform. His art is inspired by traditional Indian motifs such as mask cultures and rituals of India, and bright Thangka (Buddhist) paintings. Through his practice, Agrawal explores what he calls the ‘human-machine creativity continuum’. Using machines and algorithms, he juxtaposes traditional art media, tools and processes along with Turn to page 2 Likeness by Lalu Prasad Shaw Lalu Prasad Shaw W ith a career spanning over six decades, Indian modernist Lalu Prasad Shaw is the first of the masters to adapt to the new world of Non-fungible Token (NFT)-certified artworks. For those who have been following Shaw’s artistic oeuvre, this comes as no surprise. After all, this legend—born in Bengal in 1937—was felicitated with the National Award for Graphic Art as early as 1971. “Simplicity is the key to my artworks. I like to depict the happiness in my surroundings through my artworks. I’ve been working with the same theme on all my new artworks as well,” says the contemporary of Jamini Roy, as he talks of his recent set of 27 works on display at the Terrain.art exhibition, on show till July 27. In the last five decades, this unique artist—who is not just a painter, but also an accomplished printmaker— has expertly used his creative language to frame the Bengali middle class, or the ‘babus’, and dramatise the routine everyday on his canvas. One finds elements of 19th-century Company School style and the Kalighat Pat painting in his art. The master chuckles, “Many have asked me about this. And I enjoy talking about it every time. You see, being a Bengali, I’ve naturally grown up observing the Kalighat Pat painting style. Needless to say, I have always been interested in these folk art forms. And the influence has seeped into my artwork as well.” Shaw’s canvas of minimalism draws from the economic hardships he faced as a child. In his foreverevolving journey, Shaw decided to mould in bronze his babus and bibis in his late 70s. But it was rural Bengal— the impoverished countryside—that is, as he says, “the heart of all my paintings”. “It’s all about the originality, the essence it holds, the stories and all that you can find in a beautiful village. From the mightiest tiger to the Terracotta Temples, every small detail has impacted my artworks,” he stresses. While he may be the first Indian master to have taken to NFTs, which till now is largely a youth-oriented space, Shaw understands that an artist’s journey can be really tough. “Every artist has his or her own ups and downs. At times the paintings you put the most effort into don’t get the appreciation and attention you were expecting… Regardless of that you still pour your heart out on every new art, because you enjoy it. Becoming a master in itself is a task. It means you have proven yourself many times in your art journey,” he says wistfully . So, will the masters rule the NFT race some day? Or will the NFTs leave them behind? That is a question only the next decade can answer. Turn to page 2
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