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The Nigerian artist Osinachi is only 29 years old, but his paintings painted on Microsoft Word are already selling on the Internet for tens of thousands of euros … Or more exactly a handful of ethereum, a virtual currency used to buy digital art.
On a computer screen, a black dancer, dreadlocks tied in a bun and an African loincloth tutu fitted to the body, soars into the air. This digital board titled Becoming Sochukwuma in April sold the equivalent of 62,000 euros on the crypto-art market, which is attracting more and more artists to Nigeria.
Crypto-art is a digital work of art with which a non-fungible token (“Non-fungible token”, NFT), a certificate of authenticity based on so-called blockchain technology, a tamper-proof, traceable and unique computer file. And therefore potentially expensive.
It is this NFT which now reassures collectors as to the guarantee of ownership of a dematerialized work, that is to say present only on the Web, and which has caused the global market of digital art.
A racing market
NFTs generated nearly $ 2.5 billion in transactions in the first five months of 2021, according to the NonFungible site. And the big auction houses now sell them regularly, as is the case at Sotheby’s or Christie’s.
In this new segment of the art market, Osinachi’s pop art works are very successful. As a young student, he was already using Microsoft Word to make his tables. But a few years ago “The galleries had nothing to do with digital art and none of them answered my emails”, he recalls.
While the traditional market does not give him a chance, in 2017 he discovered the possibility of selling his art directly to buyers using so-called blockchain technology. But it was really at the start of 2021, when the cryptocurrency and NFT markets were racing, that Osinachi became the highest-rated African crypto-artist.
From now on, “The galleries run after him”, explains to AFP Oyindamola Fakeye, the artistic director of the Contemporary Art Center of Lagos (CCA), who welcomes “The very positive influence he now has on African digital artists”.
Nigeria potential leader
Blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFT: these terms no longer hold any secrets for him and he is now busy explaining them to other artists in free online training. Because, in Nigeria, where young people are as connected as they are creative, their success inspires.
More artists and entrepreneurs want to take part in “This revolution of the art world”, points out another Nigerian crypto-artist, Niyi Okeowo, whose works “Afrofuturists” combine photography, 3D and graphics. According to him, there are a hundred digital artists in Nigeria “And most of them are inspired by Osinachi”, he continues.
Osinachi is convinced of this: “Nigeria has the potential to become a leader in crypto-art in Africa”. First, “Because there are many talents here”, he specifies. “Only in Lagos”, the economic capital of 20 million inhabitants, “The creative energy is bluffing”.
Then, because in these times of economic crisis and devaluation of the naira, an increasing number of young Nigerians are losing confidence in their currency and prefer to invest in cryptocurrencies.
In 2020, more than $ 400 million was exchanged in cryptocurrencies in the country, making Nigeria the third largest user of virtual currencies in the world after the United States and Russia, according to a study by the firm Statista.
For these same reasons, Uyi Omokaro firmly believes in the potential of NFTs in Nigeria. Two weeks ago, this entrepreneur launched Wearemasters, an NFT sales platform for African artists. His project is to join forces with several Nigerian galleries to launch the most promising artists on the NFT, such as the young Nigerian Daniel Pengrapher. “Our goal is to give them international visibility thanks to the NFT”, explains Mr. Omokaro. Because, for the moment, the great collectors of NFT in Nigeria are rare.
“To my knowledge, I am one of the only”, explains Michael Ugwu, head of a digital studio in Lagos. He had started investing in cryptocurrencies as early as 2017 and, in the crypto-art market he says he found “A welcoming community, unlike the traditional art world which seems a bit snobbish”.
This “Digital art lover” already owns a hundred NFTs and considers them as investments. For example, he uses some of these NFTs as insurance to quickly get loans in the cryptofinance market, where it would take months to get one in the traditional Nigerian banking market.
The recent drop in cryptocurrency prices, which automatically lowers the value of his collection, does not seem to worry him, however. “My friends think I’m crazy, he specifies. But let’s wait and see in ten years! “