We are at the beginning of a massive journey. It’s like the internet. It will stay, ”says Aparajita Jain, co-director of Delhi’s Nature Morte gallery. Jain, 41, is referring to her newest company, Terrain.art. Launched earlier this month, the online platform sells works of art of South Asian origin, represents artists, educates audiences, and engages in the latest technology – non-fungible tokens or NFTs.
An NFT is like a tamper-proof unique identification code. Almost anything can be imprinted into an NFT – from poignant to downright absurd – and buyers collect memes, tweets, and even recorded farts. In March, a blockchain company bought a Banksy, set it on fire, but sold its NFT for three times the value of the artwork. Many doubt this is the space for “serious” artists, but they can change their minds given the exponential growth they see. That year, digital artist Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days sold for $ 69 million at a Christie’s auction. The “World’s First NFT Art Gallery,” Superchief, opened in New York. Earlier this month, the cryptocurrency trading platform WazirX opened its NFT marketplace for Indian artists.
While Terrain.art seems like any other art sales website, online art sales take it a step further by adding an NFT for every work on Ethereum, a widely used blockchain platform that supports applications and lets users send cryptocurrencies is coined. In addition to a contemporary art marketplace, it offers an interactive timeline of Indian art history starting in 1840 when photography was introduced to India by the British.
After the Gradient Descent show at Nature Morte in 2018, touted as India’s first artificial intelligence art exhibition, Jain believed that technology could address the problems of the art world. The solution to “improving our physical infrastructure”, the deficit of which became apparent during the pandemic, was to create a virtual infrastructure.
The need to reach wider audiences in an ongoing crisis, regardless of the type of technology used, has also drawn artists. Among them are the Odia artists Ramakanta Samantaray (48) and Susanta Kumar Panda (38), who share a studio and live in Delhi. Her acrylic-on-linen works, which show a tangle of vines and birds, cost more than Rs 5 lakh. With existing transaction costs, Terrain.art has contracted 35 artists, mainly young, aspiring artists from India, “who are talented but were not represented”. Artists from the rest of South Asia will follow.
NFTs can be revolutionary in determining origin – sifting originals from counterfeits, legal purchases of smuggled goods. In 2015, Verisart in Los Angeles was the first platform to use blockchain for certification in the art market.
Al-Qawi Nanavati (26) from Mumbai, whose practice is far from digital, signed up for Terrain.art last year. Her textile and paper works draw on relationships and memories, and turn to her mother Mumtaz in particular, who died three years ago. She wasn’t sure why to worry about fakes. “Terrain.art reminded me that it’s not about who I am today, but about what could happen in years,” she says. In addition to selling 40 of their works, the platform will help them navigate the market and attend shows.
“We’re not an authentication agency,” says Jain. “I can’t say whether a (MF) Husain is real or not. But contemporary artists can archive their entire practice, run them through the blockchain, and have NFTs emerge from it. The artist will say which works belong to him. So there will be no more counterfeits in the future. “When a collector buys a work, the digital ownership rights to it are transferred to their Ethereum account as an NFT. Here the NFT works like a certificate of authenticity instead of old school printouts. In the coming months, Terrain.art will be selling crypto art (digital works sold as NFTs).
However, the ETH (cryptocurrency of Ethereum) is not yet supported. Jain calls it “a gray area”. With India planning to propose a law banning cryptocurrencies, transactions will be in fiat money through credit / debit cards for now.
Artists who usually only earn money once in the life of their work of art – the first time it is sold – receive royalties from reselling at Terrain.art. This is usually not the case in the secondary art market. NFTs help track the movement of the artwork and collect royalties. “Many artists give up practicing because they cannot make a living (from their art). Money creates liquidity in the market, ”she says, adding that the reasons a buyer enters a new room are less important when the room is growing and growing well.
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