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How NFTs are redefining art amid Russia-Ukraine war

As the war rages on, Humilevskiy’s self-portraits have become a symbol of resistance by Ukraine and its people. NFT artists from across the world have been sharing his photos to express their solidarity towards Ukraine.

Artem Humilevskiy shared a photo of him standing naked in a blooming mustard field, with a toy fan in his right hand raised to the sky and his left hand pointing towards the yellow field. (Photo: Twitter @Artem Humilevskiy)

On February 24, when the Russian military forces invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian photographer and NFT artist Artem Humilevskiy shared a tweet.

It was a photo of him standing naked in a blooming mustard field, with a toy fan in his right hand raised to the sky and his left hand pointing towards the yellow field. The tweet read, “This is my flag, my country, my Ukraine!!! We are the yellow fields and blue sky, We are a proud and free people! And we need the world’s support as never before, share any Ukrainian symbols! Only with the world, we can defeat the aggressor!!!!”

A day later, Humilevskiy, who has been minting a series of self-portraits called ‘giant’, since February 17, put out a similar picture on the NFT platform ‘Foundation’. This time, he was standing in a sunflower field with three flowers each on his genitals, chest, and face. The photo that was initially minted for .50 ETH got many bids and was last sold for 1.25 ETH ($3629.34), the highest price fetched for a portrait from his series on the platform so far.

As the war rages on, Humilevskiy’s self-portraits have become a symbol of resistance by Ukraine and its people. NFT artists from across the world have been sharing his photos to express their solidarity towards Ukraine.

“The works are about inner freedom and identity, but after the war, they took on a new meaning; freedom from the external threat,” said Humilevskiy about his art.

According to him, support from people around the world was crucial. “The NFT community does not have to talk about the war. But they are sharing so much information and helping Ukrainian artists financially,” he said, adding that the current situation in Ukraine is a threat to the entire world.

When Humilevskiy expressed his anguish and patriotism for his nation, Nikita Teryoshin, a Russian photographer currently based in Berlin reacted to the conflict by burning his Russian passport. The photo of the burning passport with the caption ‘Not In My Name’ was put up for auction on Foundation and Teryoshin announced that the money raised will be donated to a crypto community based in Ukraine.

However, these auctions are not limited to Russia and Ukraine. In the past few days, artists from across the world have been producing art pieces on various NFT platforms to express their anguish over the Russia-Ukraine war.

Haru Komoda, artist and founder of Hakabochi, an art production team in Tokyo, created a virtual exhibit named ‘Butterfly effect’ with Ukrainian artists. Their works, mostly abstract, feature the horrors of a war.

TIMEpieces, a web3 NFT community initiative from TIME magazine, also announced an exhibition ‘Make art not war’, and said that 100 per cent of the income raised from the exhibition will go to humanitarian and relief efforts in Ukraine.

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In the past, NFT communities have been vocal about Israel’s occupation in Palestine and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, although not to this extent.

However, when one looks back to the history of wars, this was not always the case.

In the book, War and Art: A Visual History of Modern Conflict, British historian Joanna Bourke says, “everything from excitable patriotism to down-to-earth curiosity has led millions of artists into the heart of darkness. Some artists were official appointees sent by their government to create a record of ‘what was happening’ or to offer visual slogans to aid morale. Voluntarily engaging in active war service could allow artists to circumvent some of the restrictions created in wartime. In fact, the government often proved willing to support artists who threw themselves into the war effort.” She also cites examples of the plight of artists during the two world wars, Gulf war, etc when artists faced tension of ‘artistic freedom’ and ‘censorship’.

“Art was always impacted by the social condition of the time,” says Vimal Chandran, a digital artist based in Kerala who rose to prominence since the arrival of NFTs. He says art, including individual works, are evolving because of the integration of technology.

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He also says there was a growing support for Ukrainian artists since the beginning of the conflict. “Crypto, since it is universal, became the only asset for many people in the last few days when they had to migrate from Ukraine.”

Ukraine ranks fourth in the ‘2021 Global Crypto Adoption Index’ by Chainalysis. According to data released by TripleA, a Singapore-based organisation that aims to popularise businesses related to cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, 12.7 per cent of the Ukrainian population (over 5.5 million people approximately) owns cryptocurrency. Ukraine also legalised cryptocurrency on February 17, just days before the invasion.

Chandran, however, says digital art can only influence a niche audience at present.

“To understand NFT art, basic learning of the medium is essential,” he says, adding that a lack of understanding of NFTs might limit its popularity but it might change in the future.

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“Art market was always a closed loop,” he said, adding that the decentralised and open nature of NFTs made it more democratic than before.

First published on: 03-03-2022 at 06:20:46 pm
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