MUMBAI: Nyan Cat, a cult GIF from YouTube that mixed a catchy pop song with an animated cat and became an internet sensation, turned 10 last month. To commemorate this, creator Chris Torres made a one-of-akind rendition of the animation and sold it for $590,000 in an online auction, 1 GIF animation, late last month.
If the West has been swooning over non-fungible token (NFT) art, Indian aesthetes too have begun trawling through marketplaces for digital collectibles — music, videos, animations, installations.
They use Ethereum — a cryptocurrency like bitcoin, but with blockchain technology that stores information. What’s more, these buyers are discovering made-in-India digital art. Siraj Hassan, for instance, is a Chennai-based artiste and illustrator whose first series, titled ‘Caged,’ is being lapped up by collectors.
Globally, crypto-art has made waves too. A 50-second video by Elon Musk’s girlfriend, Grimes, went for $390,000 while another by Beeple found its way into UK auctioneer Christie’s catalogue.
“They not only give the buyer bragging rights of owning new and rare digital art, but also work as investments that increase in value over time,” said Ramani Ramachandran, CEO of Router Protocol.
“It’s just like art in the real world,” said Ramachandran. Router Protocol is a fintech startup that is backing an Indian NFT music platform.
Simply put, a bitcoin is fungible — trade one for another and you’ll have exactly the same thing. A one-of-a-kind trading card, however, is non-fungible and unique. It’s far more valuable to hold assets like an art piece in the form of a digital token.
“NFT art can be valued in, and purchased in lieu of, cryptocurrencies, which can be converted into fiat money like the dollar,” said Ramachandran.
Just like sports collectibles, the market for NFTs is estimated to have grown — to $100 million while opening up myriad possibilities for artistes. This includes greater autonomy and a fair share of the value upside, according to those aware of the dynamicsof this buzzing marketplace.
For example, Grimes has already sold $6 million worth of digital art — videos of flying cherubs and swords and a cross, set to original music — in an auction on Monday. A video clip of basketball player LeBron James went for $200,000 on NBA Top Shot, which is a platform that allows users to collect, buy or sell officially licensed NBA video highlights.
Closer home, digital artistes such as Hassan are flooding marketplaces like OpenSea, Known Origin and MakersPlace with their creations, which fetch payments and value in bitcoins and Ethereum. Hassan has sold 27 of 31 of his ‘single edition’ pieces that depict miniatures of trees, surrealistic human figures, fountains or skulls inside bell cloches in neon backdrops.
Single-edition NFT art has additional scarcity value. “One of my artworks was resold by one buyer and I earned a royalty on that resale,” said Hassan. “Artistes can assign what percentage of royalty they want to earn with every resale. In this way, we can actually earn from the secondary market too.”
To earn royalties from resale in the traditional art mart is very rare. “With NFTs, there is no scope to cheat the artiste out of his or her royalty because every buyer and seller is publicly viewable and trackable on the blockchain,” said the Chennai-based artiste.
Crypto-art operates on a blockchain and every transaction related to it is publicly accessible. Both the original artiste and owner of the artwork are recorded
on the system forever.
Pop musicians such as Udyan Sagar, better known by his stage name ‘Nucleya,’ are also considering publishing their own NFT music. Earlier this week, the musician tweeted “The #cryptoart space sounds intriguing. Thinking about doing a #NFT drop. Thoughts?” Sources close to the musician said he would be launching an NFT album by the end of this month.
Ramachandran of Router Protocol and Tushar Aggarwal, founder of Persistence, another cryptocurrency services startup, are helping build out Vinyasa, an NFT platform for music specifically for popular Indian musicians and independent artistes. It aims to monetise their work and build a community.
Nischal Shetty, founder of WazirX, is also looking to build an NFT project. “A lot of local artistes in India can benefit immensely from NFTs. We are trying to
understand the market need right now and are seeing many users showing interest in NFTs.”
Some purists, though, have expressed concern over whether speculation is fanning asset prices and long-term effects of the resulting fad.